This happens in “Forsaken” about a half-hour into the movie. By this point, however, you can only shrug. The clichés have been coming so fast and thick, you can pretty much guess where a scene will end even as it begins.
You can, that is, if you were born, say, before 1980, when the Western was a staple movie genre. Indeed you may have grown up on weekly TV series located in the mythological world of the American West.
This was a fabulous (in the dual meanings of that word) world capable of entertaining many themes and sets of characters that in the hands of a few geniuses, say a John Ford or Howard Hawks or Budd Boetticher, made sublime cinema, and in the hands of hacks made routine programmers that entertained millions until the genre burnt itself out through overexposure and genre fatigue.
“Forsaken,” to its credit — and with one exception the only credit it probably deserves — takes a risk in tackling this nearly forgotten genre (even though “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight” have made the proposition a little less risky).
Yet “Forsaken” is such a wallow in a stagnant pool of Western clichés that it drowns before the final showdown on Main Street. It’s a wonder a clock tower doesn’t read High Noon.
The crooked town boss forcing settlers to sell their land, the gang of snarling thugs to enforce his will, the retired gunslinger forced to strap on his guns, the girl he left behind and the preacher father ashamed of his murderous son — it’s all here, as if to remind you why the Western did disappear into the sunset.
The only other thing one might generously credit to this film’s writer, Brad Mirman, and director, Jon Cassar, is the good fortune to get father and son actors, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, to play father and son in a movie for the first time.
There is precedence for the familial Western as Walter Hill, the only living filmmaker who understands the Western well enough to still make a truly fine one if someone had the guts to hand him the reigns, once made a Western called “The Long Riders” (1980) starring four sets of acting brothers who played historical brothers in a tale about the Jesse James gang.
This aspect of “Forsaken” would be of greater interest had the roles carried equal or nearly equal weight. But this is Kiefer’s movie. He’s the lone gunman who rambles into the Old West town and the story is told from his point of view.
His pa is a set of, yes, preacher clichés about turning the other cheek even as someone is pistol-whipping you to near-death. This would have reduced the father to an otherwise minor character had not Donald elevated the role with his eyes and expressions of disappointment and doubt while coping with stiff dialogue and dull, repetitive scenes.
Given this casting coup, it’s a wonder the filmmakers didn’t alter course to take the dramatic onus off the tired triangle of the town boss (Brian Cox), pining though married ex-flame (Demi Moore) and uncouth killers who hang out in the saloon all day and instead shift it more toward a father-son story.
Why does a preacher’s son become a killer? How do you establish law and order far from civilization — with a gun or the word of the Lord? How can these two repair their differences?
The movie barely gets into any of this, shunning such issues in favor of cataloguing familiar Western tropes involving characters who lack any dimension or life force. The only exception is Michael Wincott’s smooth-as-silk hired gun who makes certain his adversary knows he respects his reputation and admires his attempt to go straight.
Kiefer Sutherland has the look and gravitas to slide into the weary gunslinger role but is unable to vary his attacks on the character. So his face remains petrified into a pitiable scowl rather than malleable and expressive like his father’s.
Fine actors they are but Cox and Moore can’t do much with the thin material so they clock in and clock out with professional performances.
Casser (a TV director making his feature debut) and cinematographer Rene Ohashi impose a washed-out look on this generic town and its (Alberta, Canada) vistas favoring greens, grays and browns with little blue or red save for that red ribbon the gunman got from his old flame, which he hung onto for all these years.
That ribbon, by the way, is yet another signpost you’ve entered the forsaken Land of Hoary Clichés.
Opens February 19, 2016 (Momentum Films)
Production companies: Minds Eye Entertainment, Panacea Entertainment, Rollercoaster Entertainment, Vortex Words+Pictures, Moving Pictures Media
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott, Aaron Poole, Demi Moore
Director: Jon Cassar
Screenwriter: Brad Mirman
Producers: Kevin DeWalt, Josh Miller, Bill Marks, Gary Howsam, Isabella Marchese Ragona
Executive producers: Lisa Byrne, Jon Cassar, Kenny Cheung, Trish Cook, Wilson Da Silva, Gerard Demaer, Doug Falconer, Harry F. Gabel, Dan Galang, Richard Goldstein, Jessica Martins, Kathy McCoy, Patrick Roy, Ivan Sabourin, Jeff Sackman, Mark Slone, Lisa Sohn, Paul Tan, Barbara Voynovich, Trevor Wilson, Ted Yew, Craig Yu
Director of photography: Rene Ohashi
Production designer: Ken Rempel
Music: Jonathan Goldsmith
Costume designer: Christopher Hargadon
Editor: Susan Shipton
R rating, 90 minutes