Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
LET HIM GO
Rated R, 113 minutes
Directed by: Thomas Bezucha
There’s almost nothing we haven’t seen before in writer-director Thomas Bezucha’s adaptation of Larry Watson’s novel, LET HIM GO. The lean characterizations and staunch prose just read better in book form, giving greater room for profundity to take form. Its cinematic translation is a regurgitated remodeling of skillfully layered, thought-provoking narratives and performances that have previously graced the screen, from another pairing of stars Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as parents of a Clark Kent doppelganger, to the sentiments exploring the human condition, to the antagonist molded after meddling matriarchs of other familial enterprises.
Retired sheriff George (Costner) and his wife Margaret (Lane) Blackledge live a modest life on their Montana ranch, breaking horses and tending to the farm. Their son James (Ryan Bruce), daughter-in-law Lorna (Kaylie Carter, a ringer for Haley Bennett), and baby grandson James Jr. also cohabitate with them. However, their blissful family unit fractures when James tragically dies after being thrown from a horse and, a few years later, Lorna re-marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), leaving the Blackledge home. George and Martha handle their new empty nester status as best they can, but there’s something inside Martha that doesn’t feel right about Lorna’s marital union. When out running errands, her concern is confirmed, seeing Donnie physically abuse Lorna and James Jr. in public.
But the following day, Martha discovers the newlyweds have abruptly absconded without leaving any forwarding information. She takes it upon herself to hightail it to North Dakota, where Donnie mentioned he’s from, hoping to track them down and help Lorna and Junior escape that abusive relationship. George is reticent about this operation, but because he’s looking to help grant his wife the goodbye she never got with their son, he reluctantly joins her. It’s not long before they find the intensely intimidating members of the Weboy clan, who are all up to no good dodging the law and enforcing a tyrannical rule. They don’t take kindly to strangers – especially not family looking to take away two people they prize as possessions. And Weboy matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), a caustic, cantankerous pistol who’d sooner shoot her sons than show them affection, isn’t about to give up her grandson and daughter-in-law without a battle.
Setting the story in the early 50’s – a time in which our country operated under a perceived sense of safety and neighborly love – provides an interesting juxtaposition to the danger and brutality the Blackledges are forced to face. Informing and grounding the narrative further, the transition from the cold chill of winter to the renewal of spring reflects the protagonists’ frozen sadness melting due their rediscovered, rehabilitated purpose in life. Bezucha layers in some lovely, subtle visual foreshadowing early on when Margaret and George are getting ready for Lorna’s wedding: He frames Margaret in the power center of the mirror, dominating the reflection as George is relegated onto her right side before joining her in the middle as if to support her.
That said, the efficiency of that aesthetic shorthand in other instances – when the auteur assigns underlying symbolism to scenes – doesn’t work as efficiently. George and Margaret’s jail cell is an obtuse metaphor for letting their sorrow imprison them, pushing them to risky measures to win their grandson back. Blanche’s introduction is high camp, head obscured by a hanging lamp before bending into the light to reveal herself as a glam 50’s housewife, growling “I hope you like pork chops.” Manville’s ostentatious performance channels Jean Smart in Season Two of FARGO and Jacki Weaver in ANIMAL KINGDOM, but all through a Melissa “constantly dialed up to 11” Leo lens. The clunky contrast between the two family dichotomies – the Weboy’s unabashed criminal violence versus the Blackledge’s mild manners pushed into wrongdoing – begs the audience to mull over which family is worse in this scenario.
Bezucha, who, similar to Joel Schumacher, spring-boarded from fashion into filmmaking, has done fairly well so far exploring different facets of the romcom genre. After his directorial debut BIG EDEN, he made a splash with THE FAMILY STONE, which centered on one tight-knit family’s holiday hijinks and balanced heart and humor adeptly. His follow-up feature MONTE CARLO took what appeared to be a superficial Selena Gomez vehicle and made it into a charming, empowering romcom about a young woman not solely chasing after a cute boy, but finding herself in the process. So it’s fascinating to see what he’s done in the grief-revenge milieu adapting Watson’s stinging novel into a bone dry, blistering drama. Yet he’s in a little over his head fashioning anything unique out of the material, which in his hands is tonally unwieldy and unforgiving.
LET HIM GO opens in theaters on November 6.