A former gunslinger John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland) returns to his home in Wyoming and his preacher father Rev Clayton (Donald Sutherland ) for the first time since leaving to fight in the American Civil War. The date is 1872, but this is this is a different man from the one who and the violence of war has never left him, or given him any peace.
Any plans to settle down and live a much wanted life of peace and tranquillity are put to the test by the actions of the ruthless businessman James McCurdy (Brian Cox) and his team of hired killers who are prepared to convince farmers to accept an offer on their land or face the consequences. Leading this band of mercenaries is gunslinger for hire Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Also driving this story along is before the war former sweetheart Mary-Alice Watson (Demi Moore)
This movie with its theme of the reformed gunslinger trying hard to walk away from his past is nothing new in the western genre and evokes memories of those classic westerns like “Shane”, but there are a few nice little twists here to this classic format.
From the very opening scene of a woman screaming over the shot body of her young son, it is obvious though that we are not in a cosy 1950s western drama here, this is far away from neat vintage Hollywood violence. The importance of this scene to our story takes a while to be explained, but it is worth the wait.
Real life father and son here make an interesting on-screen pairing, and their relationship although deftly played leaves so much more that could still have been explored. Demi Moore is interesting cast in an everyday non glamorous role and it is nice to get the chance to see what a good character actress there is underneath the usual glamour.
Stealing much of the film here though is Michael Wincott as hired gun Dave Turner. Villains are so much more interesting when they are obviously very intelligent but always on a knife edge. The fact that we also learn that he and John henry fought on opposite sides at the battle of Shiloh adds that extra edge to their uneasy relationship.
Directed by Jon Cassar, this is a beautifully photographed film with stunning landscapes and huge attention to period detail in recreating the look and feel of the period.
Does John Henry manage to avoid going back to his old ways, well any western fan will know the answer to that question. This film is not about the final destination so much as the route that takes us there.
The thing always about westerns like this is that you have to view them from both sides. On one side, someone always has to be strong enough to stand up to the oppressors and take whatever action is required, but on the other side, does a slide into violence as barbaric as your oppressor actually solve the problem in the long term, or just change you into one of them.
20 June, 20:45 at Odeon 2
25 June, 13:00 at Odeon 2
Review by Tom King