I have to admit the new film “Let Him Go” had me onboard just with its cast. Kevin Costner as a retired sheriff, Diane Lane as his tough resolute wife, and Lesley Manville as a wicked backwoods matriarch. You have three screen veterans whom I love starring in a gritty family drama set across Montana and North Dakota. Talk about a movie that’s right up my alley. So considering all of those glowing personal affections, my expectations were probably a little higher than most.
Don’t you love it when a highly anticipated movie doesn’t let you down? That’s certainly the case with “Let Him Go”. This character-driven neo-Western drama comes from Thomas Bezucha, a Massachusetts native who you would swear was born and raised in Big Sky country. From the very start his film makes such great use of its setting, whether it’s the stunning snow-capped mountain backdrops or the sprawling desolate landscapes that are both ominous and beautiful. Bezucha wastes no time planting our feet on the rich rocky ground.
What surprised me most about “Let Him Go” was the script. This could have easily turned out to be a much more conventional thriller. But Bezucha (who both writes and directs) burrows into his two lead characters making them the focal point. I haven’t read the 2013 novel by Larry Watson, but Bezucha’s adaptation centers itself on the themes of grief, regret and loss, examining them with heartfelt and earnest emotion. The film does have a few genre flourishes, but they come well after we’ve connected with these characters which give the scenes more weight than they would have otherwise.
Set in the early 1960’s, George and Margaret Blackledge (Costner and Lane) are still struggling to cope with the death of their son. Margaret, once an accomplished horse trainer, lost her enthusiasm and has quit riding altogether. George has buried his pain, content with locking it away rather than dealing with it. Both go about their days work on their small Montana ranch doing an admirable job concealing their heartbreak. But it gets tougher when their son’s widow Lorna (Kayli Carter) remarries, this time to a miscreant named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain).
Neither George or Margaret like Donnie and are especially worried about their grandson Jimmy (played by twins Bram and Otto Hornung). Their suspicions are confirmed after Margaret witnesses Donnie slap both Lorna and Jimmy. The next day she goes to check on them only to discover that they have packed up and left town. No notice, no goodbyes. Determined that her grandson won’t grow up in an abusive home, Margaret convinces George to help her track them down and bring Jimmy home. But Donnie’s a Weboy, a notorious family name known all across North Dakota. The Blackledge’s track Jimmy to the remote Weboy farm house which is ran by the family matriarch Blanche Weboy (a wickedly fun Manville). And let’s just say she’s not too keen on letting Jimmy go.
As you can tell there is a lot of room in the story for tension. And we do get some really good white-knuckled scenes when the Blackledges and the Weboys get together. But at the same time there is a quiet solemnity that runs through much of the film. Bezucha leans heavily on Lane and Costner and their ability to convey deep emotions often with little dialogue. Both performances are superb and give us layered characters rich with honest feelings and unshakable authenticity. It helps that Lane and Costner have a strikingly natural chemistry. Of course this isn’t the first time they played husband and wife on screen. They were also Superman’s earth parents Ma and Pa Kent.
The film’s shakiest scenes come when the Blackledges befriend a thinly sketched Native American named Peter (Booboo Stewart). We see shades of an interesting character but he needed more attention. Otherwise “Let Him Go” hits all the right chords from its wonderfully low-key early rhythm to its effectively pulpy final third. It helps to have seasoned talents giving perfectly calibrated performances. And the story’s unexpected layers of humanity make us genuinely care while ultimately bringing out the deeper meaning to the film’s title. “Let Him Go” is now showing in theaters”.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS