When last we left Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) at the end of the recent 24 miniseries, Live Another Day, he had just given himself up to the Russians in order save the life of his steadfast super-techie sidekick Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Thus ended yet another round of guilt-ridden killings for the former CTU agent and now-current renegade, a man who has endured great personal costs—physical, moral and otherwise—to protect his country from harm.
So what does 24: Live Another Day have to do with Forsaken, beyond Sutherland being the star of both? For one thing, that miniseries and this film share both supporting actor Michael Wincott (the big bad in Live Another Day, a for-hire gunslinger here) and director Jon Cassar, a veteran 24 producer/executive producer who helmed half the segments of the 12-episode miniseries.
Beyond the shared personnel, though, the 24 connection offers an intriguing subtextual layer to Forsaken that gives Cassar’s film the only real interest it has. Make no mistake: As a Western, this is pretty generic stuff. Take the wannabe-retired gunslinger at the heart of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and stick him into a Shane-like scenario, in which a town is menaced by a mustache-twirling group of land developers kicking townspeople out of their homes through brute force. That’s Forsaken in a nutshell, and outside of the tug-of-war between religious faith and agnostic doubt seen in the tension-filled dynamic between John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) and his father, Rev. Clayton (played by Kiefer’s own father, Donald Sutherland)—a spiritual angle wholly absent from those aforementioned genre precursors—the film basically plays out in the manner you’d expect, rarely offering any genuine surprises along the way.
Forsaken, however, becomes marginally more interesting if you consider it in the context of the 24 universe: a world similarly fraught with threats both violently external and soul-killingly internal. It’s telling, in that regard, that, as it is gradually revealed, the nature of John Henry’s vicious crimes in the ten or so years in the post-Civil War wilderness before he returns to his old Wyoming home involves a slew of killings he undertook in the name of revenge. Such was also the case with Jack Bauer in the home stretch of 24’s last full season, during which he waged a brutally ruthless campaign of violence after a Russian assassin killed his current love interest. If the TV series could be said to be a character drama in any respect, its essence lay in this repetitive testing of its protagonist’s moral boundaries, with every season seeing Bauer lead his country to safety but leaving him bruised and battered physically and/or emotionally, always forcing him at the beginning of the following season to try to escape his former life, to no avail.
With that in mind—and with Kiefer Sutherland imbuing Clayton with basically the same gestural mannerisms and tough-yet-vulnerable demeanor that he brought to Bauer on 24—Forsaken suggests a concerted attempt by Sutherlands, Cassar & Co., through the oblique means of making an old-fashioned Western, to fully reckon with the older character’s savage past in ways not allowed on the TV show’s constant forward momentum.
And yet, though the milieu and the contemplative approach may be drastically different, the fatalistic song remains the same. Try as he might to escape his character-as-destiny, Jack Bauer will always get roped into yet another round of draining terrorist-fighting intrigue. So it is with John Henry Clayton: No matter how hard he endeavors to live without a gun in his holster, a piece will eventually find its way there anyway. Consider Forsaken’s final moments, then, the indirect mythologized sendoff for Jack Bauer that the character was never able to receive.
Director: Jon Cassar
Writer: Brad Mirman
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore, Brian Cox, Michael Wincott
Release Date: February 19, 2015
Kenji Fujishima is a freelance film critic, contributing to Slant Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, The Playlist and the Village Voice. He is also Deputy Editor of Movie Mezzanine. When he’s not watching movies or writing and editing film criticism, he’s trying to absorb as much music, art and literature as possible. He has not infrequently been called a “culture vulture” for that reason.