“Forsaken,” with Kiefer Sutherland as a conflicted gunslinger and Donald Sutherland as his disapproving dad, only runs for 90 minutes yet took more than three decades to make. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for 35 years,” the younger Sutherland said of starring in a movie with his famous dad.
The movie, out now in limited release (in metro Atlanta, at AMC Barrett Commons 24 in Kennesaw) and Video On Demand, is set in Wyoming several years after the Civil War. John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), still rattled by the horrors of Shiloh, is finally home and vowing never to again raise a weapon in anger. Rev. William Clayton (Donald Sutherland), isn’t impressed with that or much else about his son.
John Henry’s homecoming is anything but happy. His mother has passed away and his former love Mary Alice (Demi Moore) has married someone else. Resigned to homesteading, he starts building the fence his late mother once asked him to do, so we get scenes of John Henry swinging an ax (cue the mental Johnny Cash soundtrack).
There’s trouble brewing, though. Evil merchant James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is bent on seizing everyone’s land prior to the railroad’s arrival with the help of silver-tongued Dave Turner (Michael Wincott) and a band of hired thugs who show up with barrels blazing if area farmers don’t agree to sell.
The good and terrified townsfolk hope it won’t be long before John Henry’s trigger finger starts itching, while the good reverend admonishes his son not to take his guns to town (more mental Johnny Cash).
No spoilers but .. what do you reckon happens next?
The younger Sutherland’s parents divorced when he was a child and he grew up with his mother, Shirley Douglas, visiting his dad on holidays or during summer vacations. Sutherland said filming the movie with his father was an exciting but daunting project.
“The night before we started shooting was the scariest night I’ve ever had as an actor,” he told the AJC during a recent interview. “My father is not only one of the most prolific actors but one of the most important.”
The movie reunites Sutherland with director Jon Cassar, who partnered with him on “24,” and fans will relish the spark of Jack Bauer in his “Forsaken” character. It’s a modern twist on the classic genre (did folks in the wild, wild West really drop that many F-bombs?) complete with rushed entrances through swinging saloon doors and plenty of flying lead.
But there’s a complexity to the film, and its narrative arc.
“The reason we used a western is there’s this perception that it was a more simple world, which I don’t believe is historically true,” Sutherland said. “The idea that you either survive by your strength and wit or you perish by your weakness – it’s not as simple as that.”
The film tells the parallel stories of good vs. evil and father and son.
“I don’t have a single male friend that hasn’t at one point in their life had a complicated moment with their father and I have to believe vice versa,” said Sutherland, who found the project to be both professionally and personally enriching. “(Donald Sutherland) wrapped two days earlier than I did. The second he wrapped and drove away to go catch a flight, I realized we worked together for almost seven weeks: That’s probably the most time I’d ever spent with my dad in my entire life.”