It’s refreshing that in an age populated by revisionist westerns and snazzy new takes on the ancient genre, some filmmakers just want to play it straight and deliver a good old oater without any newfangled bells and whistles. Jon Cassar’s Forsaken does just that, arriving a few years late (turbulent post production issues) but in modest, simple form, here to tell the age old tale of one man who stands up to some evil frontier bankers with stoic heroism. Kiefer Sutherland is John Henry Clayton, a man who has been away from his quiet hometown for nearly a decade. Following a traumatic stint in the war, circumstance led him into the life of the gunfighter. His unannounced return home stirs up old wounds in his preacher father (Donald Sutherland) who cringes in the very presence of his violent aura. John has thrown down the guns and sworn never to pick them up again, but we all know that just ain’t true, and when he meets a certain group of unsavory dudes in town, he becomes a time bomb of righteous anger that’s liable to go off any time. He spends some time mourning his mother and reconnecting with a lost love (Demi Moore), until the inevitable conflict brews. Corrupt banker James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is buying up farms and forcing families who don’t want to sell off their land, using despicable methods carried out by his two goons, vicious Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole) and mercurial ‘Gentleman’ Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Tensions arise and everyone finds themselves headed for an unavoidable and blistering conclusion. Kiefer always has a jagged rage simmering just below the surface, which is what made him so perfect as Jack Bauer, another time bomb. He’s downright implosive here, delivering the best work I’ve ever seen him give. He’s got a touching scene with his father in which he goes to places I didn’t know he was capable of in his work. Donald is quiet, resentful and compassionate, wrestling internally to keep his serenity in the face of injustice. Cox always puts on a good show as the villain, and he’s exactly what he needs to be here: beaurocratic menace with just a dash of swagger. It’s Wincott who steals the show though, with the best work in the film. He inhabits Dave (and his incredibly dapper costume) with a relaxed, lupine calm, punctuated by sudden bursts of danger and always presided over by the midnight black, raspy croon of a voice that makes him so special. He jaunts along the line between villain and sympathetic antihero so well, the only character in the film to shirk the archetypes, and I was please try reminded of Jason Robard’s Cheyenne from Once Upon A Time In The West. His best work in a while as well, but then he’s always perfect. The film is refreshingly violent in its gunplay, with an earned brutality that never feels gratuituous, and always satisfying. The production took place in wildest alberta, a trip worth the taking for the breathtaking scenery we get to feast on, especially in an opening credit sequence that is very reminiscent of Eastwood films of yesteryear. It’s a landmark in the sense that although both Kiefer and Donald have been in the same film before (Joel Schumacher’s underrated A Time To Kill) they never have shared the same frame until now. Trust me, it was worth the wait. They are both excellent, along with their peers in a simple, honest to goodness Western film that should please fervent fans of the genre and moviegoers alike.
44 Inch Chest is packed full of bloated, preening masculinity, cold hard chauvinism and dense, wordy exchanges that seem pulled right off the stage, an intense bit of British pseudo-gangster quirk with two writers who seem intent on heightening every syllable to near surreal levels of style. The same scribes are responsible for the glorious verbal stew that can be found in Paul McGuigan’s brutal Gangster No. 1 as well as Sexy Beast, and while the level of viciousness here is left almost entirely to the spoken word alone, the elliptical sting of their script still hits home, and even ramps up a bit from those films. A mopey, consistently weepy Ray Winstone stars as boorish Colin Diamond, an gent whose wife (Joanne Whalley Kilmer) has been caught in an affair with a chiseled french pretty boy (Melvil Poupoud). He resorts to a melancholy, comatose state as his perceived manliness visibly circles the drain. His circle of friends arrives, each with their own flamboyant ideas for resolving the situation. Velvety Meredith (Ian McShane, cool as a cucumber) looks on in snooty amusement. Violent guttersnipe Mal (Stephen Dillane, replacing Tim Roth) has the brawn but neither the brains nor ambition to act. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) is the bewildered everyman. Old Man Peanut (a fire and brimstone John Hurt who devours the script like a lion feasting on a gazelle) is a bible thumping, crusty old pot of fury who suggests that wifey should be stoned to death for her indecency and betrayal. They spend the better part of the film pontificating like a babbling senate, whilst Winstone languishes in despair. One wonders what the point of it all is and where it’s going, until we arrive at an oddly satisfying third act that somehow negates almost everything we’ve seen before it. Strangely enough, though, it works, if only to give us something we’ve never quite seen before, pulling the rug of genre convention out from under us and giving us a piece that almost could resemble a spoof of other works, if it weren’t so damned straight faced and persistent in its execution. In any case, I could watch this group of actors assemble ikea furniture and it would still be transfixing. It’s just a room full of talent shooting the shit for most of the running time, and in a genre where one can scarcely here the performers talk over the gunfire and cheekily referential soundtrack a lot of the time, I’ll damn well take something a bit more paced, quiet and stately. Winstone smears over his usual seething anger with a morose depression would almost be endearing if it weren’t so pathetic. Wilkinson brings his usual studious nature. McShane is pure class in anything (even a few B movies I’m sure he’d love to forget) and he swaggers through this one like a regal peacock, getting some of the best lines to chew on. Dillane is detached and indifferently cruel, with seldom a word uttered, his lack of mannerism contrasted by the vibrant animosity of his three peers. Hurt is pure gold as the closest the film comes to caricature, just a vile old coot who belongs in the loony bin raving to the walls about awful things that happened ‘back in his day’. Different is the key word for this one, and one might be easily fooled by the poster and synopses into assuming this is a revenge flick populated by action and violence. Not so much. Although a lot of the time that is my cup of tea, it’s nice to get a welcome deviation once in a while, and this one is a real treat.