Travis Leamons // Film Critic
LET HIM GO
Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Cast: Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Kayli Carter, Jeffrey Donovan, Will Brittain, and Ryan Bruce
Most LET HIM GO critiques will acknowledge the once-again pairing of Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as parents living out in the country. Only this time, they aren’t playing a childless couple who took in an illegal “alien” and raised it as their own. (Their little boy would grow up to be a Superman.) Curiously, the correlation didn’t register with me until well after watching Thomas Bezucha’s latest, based on Larry Watson’s novel of the same name.
I did recall, however, another Larry. Author Larry McMurtry of LONESOME DOVE fame. Not reminded because of his magnum opus, but a series of essays he penned in the 1960s for the collection IN A NARROW GRAVE. One of the pieces was titled “Cowboys, Movies, Myths, & Cadillacs: An Excursus on Ritual Forms of the Western Movie.” In it, he extrapolates on if mediums like film and television portray the American cowboy as he really is — or, to be more accurate, as he really was.
LET HIM GO is an interesting case as it straddles the Western genre and takes place long after the golden age Hollywood loved to glamourize. The time and setting are 1950s rural Montana and North Dakota. Our protagonists are grandparents, a generation removed from when the west was won, living contently as modernity encumbers itself to a changing America.
The rustic backdrop is not tradition for the frontier-era westerns typically envisioned. Nor are its characters of the stock variety – unless a retired lawman as the tagalong husband counts. The tale, on the other hand, is a well-played riff on the revenge story. In this case, pursual and taking something back.
The searchers, in this case, are Margaret and George Blackledge (Lane and Costner), Montana horse farmers sharing space with son James (Ryan Bruce), James’ wife Lorna (Kayli Carter), and their little boy. Margaret and her daughter-in-law are a bit thorny towards each other in caring for the newborn. When James is thrown from his horse one morning and dies tragically, it further complicates their relationship. Bezucha shows a bit of guile in how he frames a church service following James’s passing. With the Blackledges standing idly by, what looks to be a wake is actually a wedding with Lorna marrying Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain).
Three years have passed in the blink of an eye, and Margaret misses seeing her grandson on a regular basis; Lorna and Jimmy have moved out of the house and into an apartment. Margaret’s irritation rises when she sees Donnie strike her and the boy in town and boils over when all three scoots out of Montana in the dead of night to take residence with the Weboy clan in North Dakota. She knows Donnie is an unfit father and has decided to get her grandson back. George, recalcitrant to what his wife is proposing to do, questions if they have a say in the matter but goes along anyway.
LET HIM GO is a slow-burning thriller that establishes the characters as they are and the lengths they are willing to go to make right. Vigilantism isn’t off limits if it means what’s best for everyone who isn’t a Weboy by birth. Once the Blackledges cross into North Dakota and start asking questions, the looks and expressions received could stop a weathervane in a tornado.
The Weboys are bad news, its matriarch particularly. Lesley Manville’s turn as Blanche Weboy is like a flatiron steak cooked all the way through and served with bourbon. Medium rare and a few beers from a six-pack would have been fine. Her performance is too much, albeit for one scene-stealing moment during family dinner with Margaret and George as guests.
As the boorish mother, Manville isn’t enough to overshadow Diane Lane, whose Margaret is strong even in mourning. She and Kevin Costner reignite what limited screen chemistry they had in MAN OF STEEL. They are a good fit, and seeing them again as husband and wife is like pulling on a pair of already worn blue jeans. A little more elasticity, but the love remains the same. Years of marriage have taught George Blackledge how much he can impress Margaret, whereas she is the more tenacious one.
Considering its ending, and the title’s double meaning in second chances, LET HIM GO is a surprisingly understated Western for those not ready to be put out to pasture. Good performances with an old-fashioned setting and themes and a Michael Giacchino music score make for good viewing, with either a steak and beer or coffee and pie.
LET HIM GO opens in theaters on Friday, November 6.