Synopsis: Following the loss of their son, a retired sheriff and his wife leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of a dangerous family living off the grid in the Dakotas.
Stars: Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Lesley Manville, Will Brittain, Jeffrey Donovan, Kayli Carter, Booboo Stewart
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Running Length: 114 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Let’s be straight up real about the last few months in the world of cinema. While we’ve seen an impressive run of surprising films from the next generation of filmmakers, the old guard of Hollywood has been noticeably absent. Now, that’s not quite all their fault because this pandemic has sidelined nearly all of the major studio films set for release, waylaying their A-listers with them but also serendipitously making way for a roster of exciting new talent to be seen. Still, I must admit I’ve secretly been craving a few of those headliners that bring with them a particular caché you just can’t put a price on. It may mean you know what to expect from a certain performance, yet you’ll know it will get the job done.
Had it not been released in the middle of this strange time, a film like Let Him Go very likely would have made that much of a ripple in anyone’s film-going tide pool. It’s a pretty quiet and introspective film, one that prefers to keep its audience at arm’s length a lot of the time, much like several of its central characters. The plot doesn’t vary too far from a standard Western formula that’s been resuscitated numerous times in television and film, though the 2013 novel by Larry Watson which it is based on does manage to incorporate a few interesting curveballs that keep viewers from getting too comfortable. What makes Let Him Go such a welcome gift right now, and a gift it truly is, are its two central performances and the kind of confident direction that earns trust early on.
It’s a quiet life for Margaret and George Blackledge on their Montana ranch as the film opens. It’s the 1950’s and they have their only son living with them, along with his wife (Kayli Carter, Rings) and their young grandson. George (Kevin Costner, Draft Day) is a retired sheriff now content to help his wife (Diane Lane, Trumbo) with the horses on their property and working alongside his son. This peaceful existence is broken by a tragic accident which leaves their grandson without a father and a few years later sees their daughter-in-law get remarried to Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain, Everybody Wants Some!) who gives Margaret an uneasy feeling. When she witnesses Donnie hitting his new wife and stepchild in public and gets the sense it isn’t the first time, she makes up her mind to bring them back to the ranch…only to find they’ve vanished from their apartment a few miles away.
In a nice reversal of roles, it’s Margaret who is the impetus for action throughout and it’s she who convinces George to go with her to find out where Donnie Weboy has taken their grandchild. Their journey takes them across state lines, hundreds of miles from home but brings them closer together, bridging a small unspoken divide that has formed since the death of their son. As they get closer to Weboy and eventually the town that houses the viper’s nest of his family, headed by menacing matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread), they find a deeper understanding of their own grief of loss they haven’t resolved. Arriving into a situation they aren’t prepared for, they’re instantly thrown off guard by the hold the family seems to have on the town and sense of entitlement they have to any outsider. They also haven’t encountered anyone quite like Blanche Weboy, nor so they have a clue as to the deadly lengths this mother will go to keep her family together.
It might surprise some people to know Let Him Go was adapted and directed by the same person that gave us the cult favorite holiday film The Family Stone back in 20025. The lighter tones of that film gave way to a more somber underbelly so we know Thomas Bezucha can navigate the changing of temperatures when necessary. So really it’s no real surprise he can easily move through Let Him Go’s swiftly shifting moods which often turn on a dime. In a less assured filmmaker, this could spell trouble and be rattling but Bezucha makes these transitions with ease and inline with the laid-back, casual feel of his film. It also adds the necessary punch when the film ratchets up some well-earned tension in its final act, leading to a finale that was unpredictable at the time but a foregone conclusion in hindsight.
The best reason to see this one is to watch the kind of career-high work Costner and Lane are doing. At a time when actors of their stature are being relegated to less showy roles or definitely not sharing the same type of meaty two-hander spotlight Let Him Go provides, both actors are impressive and note-perfect in their emotional journey they undertake. Aside from both looking like they haven’t aged but a year or so since the mid ‘80s, I easily believed the two had shared a lengthy marriage and, more than that, an understanding of what it takes to be a couple during that time period. Maybe it’s because of their previous time together as Clark Kent’s parents in 2013’s Man of Steel but, no, it’s more than that. Costner is not usually this engaged and I feel like Lane has brought out the absolute best in him, something she’s known to do in so many of her co-stars. If I had to pick, I’d say it’s Lane’s movie by a nose…only because of the added complexity of her character having such a strange parallel with Manville’s scheming villainess. You know from the moment you lay eyes on Manville she’s going to be trouble, but you won’t be prepared just how bad she’ll get.
Arriving in theaters prior to a release at home, this is one that I was able to screen from my living room and for that I’m grateful. I’m still not ready to head to the theater yet, even though I’m longing for more A-List star-vehicles like Let Him Go. I hate for it to feel like I’m short shifting the movie by quantifying its appeal based on all the release date shifts in Hollywood. This would be a strong movie with excellent performances whenever it was released, it’s just particularly impactful now because we’ve so been needing these kinds of Hollywood star turns. I wish the awards field were wide enough to embrace performances like Lane’s because she’s so very good in this and Manville’s cackling witch of a woman is the kind of broad baddie that earned Jackie Weaver a nomination for Animal Kingdom back in 2010. Whether they are play the good character or a bad one, let’s keep rewarding strong female turns in films.