Forsaken (2016): Kiefer Sutherland’s ‘Unforgiven’ (Review)

Kiefer Sutherland in Forsaken

Forsaken, the 2016 western starring both the Sutherland’s could be seen as Kiefer’s version of the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven.  Not in texture, however, as Sutherland’s film is much less downtrodden. While there are control issues in the story, the town and scenery are nowhere near as bleak as Eastwood’s oater.

The film, written by Brad Mirman and directed by Jon Cassar, tells the story of John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland).  A Civil War veteran turned gunslinger who hangs up this guns and tries to turn away from violence.  He returns to his family home and attempts to reconcile the  past  and make amends with his father Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland).

He meets an old flame, Mary-Alice Watson (Demi Moore) who has married and moved on.  John Henry also meets another veteran Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Turner works for local businessman James McCurdy (Brian Cox).

McCurdy is taking over small land-holdings by threat and bullets from his gang of surly, bullying gunfighters.  The deadly group are lead by Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole). A nasty bit of work, Tillman zeroes in on John Henry the moment he arrives in town. 

Forsaken is a slow build. Like other westerns on offer of late, for example the 2014  Danish western “The Salvation,” or even the older Eastwood homage to Shane; Pale Rider, the “townsfolk” all seem a little too beaten down. It is, however, understandable as McCurdy does have a good sized violence-prone gang ready to do his bidding.

As westerns go, this one is a good fit.   It follows a certain credo and feels like something that Louis L’Amour would have written. (The scene between Turner and Clayton just emits the L’Amour mythos of professional courtesy.)

The two Sutherland’s work beautifully together and Demi Moore provides an excellent portrait of the  childhood love left behind.   Cox’s villainous land grabber is a little too foul mouthed for the period, it is really doubtful that “f*ck” was that widely used, if at all, in the time of Queen Victoria and the primness that entailed.

(That could be down to the script however and not Mr. Cox who plays any role with a deep authenticity.)

Overall Forsaken took a long time to reach its, almost, forgone conclusion. Despite this nearly languid approach to the climax, it is well worth the wait.

Throughout the film there are moments that look to be full blown homages to other movies.  The scene in the street in front of the town store takes a completely different turn. (One expects Clayton to employ his newly purchased axe handle…)

Kiefer Sutherland certainly “earned his spurs” once again,  the actor is familiar with the genre,  he was in Young Guns and that film’s sequel Young Guns II.  He gave his character a certain credibility and not once did he “fan” his guns.

Set in the period after the Civil War (the 1870s) everything looked “right.” Although the church having so many glass windows spoke of a property that the town really did not reflect overall.

Overall, Forsaken is a 5 star film.  It is a solid western that does not delve too deeply into the psychological meanderings that helped to kill the genre in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It does feel a  little like Sutherland’s own “Unforgiven,” but the message is different.

Eastwood’s film focussed on violence being horrific and wasteful.  This western’s message is that violence is sometimes necessary; the bullies of the world will not stop until the good guys stop them…physically.

Available on Showtime, mosey on over and check this one out. Before saddling up and heading out, check out the trailer below:

Clint Eastwood Unforgiven by Dina Eastwood

Clint Eastwood Unforgiven by Dina Eastwood

Clint Eastwood and his wife Dina Eastwood, who have been married for 17 years, are separated according to her. Apparently the two had a major row about Dina’s reality television program Mrs Eastwood and Company. So it appears that Clint is “Unforgiven” by Dina and the two are living apart.

Coen Brothers True Grit (2010)

Well, I had to wait for a month and a half to see the new Coen Brothers remake and wow. Again about two years ago this video, enjoy.

And just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GkAH7IUWOE

Ghostquake: Haunted High (2012) TV Movie Rubbish

One of the “advantages” of living overseas is the ability to watch made for TV movies that are disguised as normal feature films. It is probably my own fault. I have a list of things I watch for: favourite directors, favourite actors, and whether the film is a horror film or not.

I am a sucker for horror films. The only other genre that comes close on my favourite’s list is westerns. But with westerns I am cynical and leery of new ones. Ever since the 1970’s when westerns became a gaunt shell of their former glory (mainly the introduction of the psychological element spelt the death knell of the western) I look at them with a jaundiced eye that wants to be surprised and pleased with what Hollywood has to offer.

Sometimes I get lucky; the Coen brothers and True Grit, their modern western No Country for Old Men and their noir western Blood Simple. Clint Eastwood and his film Unforgiven, or the cross genre film Cowboys and Aliens. All good and not a bit of dross anywhere, but, I do not take on face value anything that Hollywood trots out as a western as being good. Not, at least, until I’ve researched it…a lot.

But horror films are different. I invariably see a horror film and I’ll decide, like some overgrown wide-eyed Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, that this film is going to be good. “Look at who is in it,” or “Wow look who directed it,” or “That trailer is awesome.” And just like that, I walk into the world of the crap film all innocence and fresh-faced gormlessness.

Of course, these imported made for TV films are doubly disguised. At least in the US, you know from the get-go that it is a TV film. The real giveaway is that it is on TV and it is a “new” film. I don’t know if they have the quaint Movie of the Week anymore, but I’m sure there must be a modern equivalent.

I saw the title of this movie, Ghostquake and saw that one of my old favourites Danny Trejo was in it and that lovely alumni from Buffy and Angel Charisma Carpenter was in it as well, and I thought, “Well this must be pretty good, I mean, look who is in it.” And just like that, I paid a grand total of 3 pounds sterling for the film. New mind you not used or “pre-viewed” but new from Tesco’s; where most films go for between 10 and 20 pounds.

Danny Trejo one of the few times he’s not locked in the janitor’s closet.

I know what you are thinking, “Surely, the fact that it was only 3 pounds should have tipped you off.” But in my defence, I will state for the record that I have found some great films for mere pennies, thank you.

But not often and very rarely, okay?

A great clue as to how dreadful this film is can be gleaned by the fact it has taken me over 500 words to get around to talking about the thing.

Believe me when I tell you it is more than dreadful, it is almost beyond description. But in my attempt to save anyone else from the horror (pun intended) that is Ghostquake (or Haunted High as it was called on its television premiere, presumably on the Sy Fy channel) I will gamely try to discuss the film.

The film takes place in the fictional high school of Halloman. It is a preppy type “school uniform” school and it is haunted by the apparition of the old principal who was the leader of a satanic cult who killed students. His grandson is now attending the school and his presence combined with some cursed gold coins has caused his grandfather (and his evil sidekick, a demonic ex-student with a horrible complexion and very sharp teeth) to manifest and start killing the hapless students who are in the school after hours.

I had a good idea that this was a disguised made for TV film when I realised that there were no lingering shots of the dead students. There was not even a lot of gore. I knew for sure, when I started inadvertently putting in commercial breaks.

The level of acting (if you could even classify what most of the “actors” did as acting) was execrable and apart from Danny Trejo, who has a certain level of believability in most of what he does, the only other actor who even came close to “acting” was Charisma Carpenter.

Oh look! It’s Charisma Carpenter, now don’t blink or you’ll miss..Ah ya blinked.

Unfortunately Mademoiselle Carpenter was in the film for exactly one minute and thirty-two seconds. I know, because I timed it…twice. After meeting her maker by being half swallowed by a portion of the floor that looked suspiciously like that marshmallow stuff that comes in jars she never appears again, except as another name in the end credits.

Trejo made out a bit better as he made until the last reel, coming back as a ghostly avenger to drag the demon ex-principal to the hell that awaits all bad actors. Sadly he could not drag the rest of the cast with him.

I could spend another 1000 words talking about continuity lapses and sound problems (the main one being that the entire film sounded “looped”) and plot holes that were big enough to fly a Boeing 767 through. Not to mention the dreadful combination of over acting and wooden acting.

Most “bad” horror films have the slim redemption of at least being so bad that they are funny. I have seen quite a few of those and, oddly, they become favourites; almost as revered as the really good horror films. Ghostquake did not even come close to the “it’s so bad, it’s good” category.

In fact, I felt strongly like going to Tesco’s and demanding my 3 pounds back.

Final verdict: Avoid at all costs and if you see it, drive a stake though the packaging and burn it.

A rose under any other title would still stink like…NOT a rose.

Unforgiven (1992): How the West Was Bleak

Cover of "Unforgiven [Blu-ray]"
Cover of Unforgiven [Blu-ray]
Directed by Clint Eastwood (insert film titles here) and written by David Webb Peoples (Soldier, Accidental Hero, Twelve MonkeysUnforgiven is a bleak, grim picture of the old west.

Eastwood is Will Munny an ex-murderer, robber, gunfighter, and he’s an alcoholic. His wife has died and he is raising his two kids and hogs in a derelict area of countryside. His hogs are all dying from some sort of fever and times are beyond tough, they look miserable.

The film starts with a prostitute getting her face savagely beaten by an unhappy customer. She has been left horribly scarred and her ‘pimp’ demands restitution. The local sheriff Little Bill (Gene Hackman) decides that a couple of horses will even things up. Strawberry Alice (Frances Fisher) decides to take matters into her own and the other prostitutes hands by offering a bounty for the death of the two cowboys she deems responsible.

The ‘Schofield Kid’ (Jaimz Woolvett) arrives at Munny‘s farm while he is working his hogs. Tired and muddy, he listens to the ‘Kid’ about the bounty and initially rejects the offer of teaming up with him to collect the money. That Will has changed his mind is evident when he takes his pistol out and starts practising. Discovering that his aim isn’t what it used to be, he switches to a shotgun.  He goes to see his best (and only) friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) who he rode with in “the old days.”

He talks Ned into accompanying him and the Schofield Kid to Big Whiskey, Wyoming where the bounty can be collected. They catch up to the Kid and find that he is as blind as a bat without his glasses and can hardly see with them on. Undeterred the three ride up to Big Whiskey to collect the bounty.

At Big Whiskey, Little Bill has found out that “them whores” have offered a bounty and is furious. He knows that his town is going to fill with gunfighters and bounty hunters. He enforces a new law that requires all people entering the town limits to relinquish their weapons before they enter.

English Bob (Richard Harris) enters the town with his “biographer” W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) who is writing Bob’s life for the ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ so popular in the old west. English Bob is an infamous gunfighter and he refuses to hand his guns over to the deputies who control the town line.

Little Bill tackles Bob in his saloon and getting the advantage over him with the aid of his deputies arrests Bob and beats the hell out of him. Little Bill is an overbearing bully who relishes in telling Beauchamp the “truth” about English Bob’s exploits. Gleefully, he points out how Bob usually ‘back shot’ his victims and that he is, in fact, a coward. He turns Bob loose with his gun ruined and Beauchamp decides to stay in Big Whiskey and write about Little Bill.

Will, Ned and the Kid have arrived in Big Whiskey. Will has picked up a pretty good dose of pneumonia and is very ill. He rides into the saloon delirious from fever. He is so sick that he doesn’t see the sign posted at the town limits about turning in his guns. He is in the saloon when Little Bill and his deputies confront and then beat the sick man.

Will passes out and when he comes to, he is being seen to by the prostitute who was beaten at the beginning of the film. After recuperating, Will, Ned and the Kid go to kill the first of the two cowboys, Ned, it turns out, no longer ‘has it in him’ to kill anyone, Will has to use the Spencer rifle to shoot the cowboy. Later he and the Kid go to the cowboy’s ranch and the Kid shoots the other cowboy to death in the outhouse.

When he and Will return to their camp, they find out from the prostitutes that Little Bill has captured Ned and beaten him to death. Will starts drinking from a bottle of whiskey and turns deadly. He rides into town to kill Little Bill and his deputies. After dispatching the law force of Big Whiskey, he rides off admonishing the townspeople to “Bury Ned Right.” Or he will return and kill them and their children.

Throughout the film Eastwood makes sure that the audience knows that Will Munny was a very bad man. His badness stemmed from the alcohol he drank. We learn that Munny killed women and children when he was under the influence. We also learn that his wife, made him change his ways and besides loving her, he was grateful to her for changing his life.

Will Munny is a tragic figure. He is haunted by his past acts and he is haunted by the death of his wife. No wonder that at the start of the film he is raising hogs in what must be some sort of penance for his previous misdeeds. That he feels remorse for the horrible things he did when drunk is obvious, he is constantly asking Ned to reaffirm that he is “no longer like that.”

Eastwood as a director has taken great pains to “de-glamorize” the west and the violence that was it’s everyday existence. Eastwood’s west is grim and bleak and muddy. The deaths of everyone is dirty and small. Will says to the Schofield Kid, after he admits that he has never killed anyone before, “death is a helluva thing, takes away everything a man is and everything he’s ever gonna do” [sic]

Unforgiven is Clint Eastwood’s last western and his own homage to two of his mentors, directors Don Siegel  and Sergio Leone.  As a western swan song it is nigh on perfect. Little wonder that the film got as many awards as it did (four just from the Academy in case you were curious). It was also listed in  2007,  as the #68 Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute.

I don’t know about that, but I’d say I think it ranks among the top ten westerns of all time.