It’s been four years since Kevin Costner and Diane Lane have headlined a movie as lead actors. Now the two respected veteran actors of the screen are front and center in the modern day western “Let Him Go”. Being sold as a stern revenge story, writer and director Thomas Bezucha isn’t making a straight Liam Neeson’s “Taken” action picture for the AARP card carrying folks. Bezucha is a more thoughtful and artistic filmmaker, interested in mixing the feelings and frustrations involved in the fight to getting a loved one back and spotlighting how relationships are tested. With the tone of an American, modern day western noir that echoes the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men” and the films of Sam Peckinpah. The abrupt tonal shifts throughout the film replicates that of a rollercoaster ride and may throw some viewers for a loop. When the films confrontations go from tense verbal exchanges to sudden bursts of violence, it feels authentic as it all leads to a rousing and violent finale that takes no prisoners. To watch Costner and Lane together is pure movie magic. They give it their all, that only showcases what seasoned pros and cinematic gifts they are. Lesley Manville is masterful and easy shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Portraying the evil family matriarch with a snaring venom, who dresses like a mafia queen of pure Shakespearean evil. Movie goers will be rewarded with getting the chance to spend time with richly defined characters, sharp writing, outstanding performances, impeccable location photography, graceful editing and exquisite suspense. Out of all the movies released this year whether theatrically or on streaming. I highly advise you, to not miss out seeing what is one of the best movies of the year.
If you’ve seen the 2013 Superman reboot “Man Of Steel”, you’d think the trailers and posters for the new modern western “Let Him Go” was a prequel or origin story of Superman’s parents Ma and Pa Kent. The connection to “Let Him Go” in being an origin story to Superman’s parents are easily there. Because both Diane Lane and Kevin Costner played Ma and Pa Kent in “Man of Steel”. The veteran actors had added some much-needed heart to the D.C. Universe film, but those were mere secondary roles.
Now the two respected actors of the screen are front and center in “Let Him Go”. To watch Costner and Lane together it’s nothing but pure movie magic. We get to see how wonderful and real they look together in expertly portraying a long-married couple who have to endure a pain that no parent should have to be faced with.
The producer, writer and director is Thomas Bezucha who brought us the ensemble holiday comedy “The Family Stone”, with Diane Keaton and Sarah Jessica Parker (a Christmas must watch for me every year). He hasn’t directed or written a feature since his better than people give it credit for comedy/drama “Monte Carlo” with Selena Gomez in 2011. Bezucha takes a much different turn from his two previously mentioned films as “Let Him Go” is being sold as a stern revenge story concerning a custody entanglement between two midwestern families. Except Bezucha isn’t making Liam Neeson’s “Taken” for the AARP card carrying folks. He’s a more thoughtful and artistic filmmaker, interested in the feelings and frustrations involved in the fight to getting a loved one back and spotlighting how relationships are tested.
When we meet Diane Lane’s Margaret Blackledge (who breaks horses for a living) and Kevin Costner’s George Blackledge (a retired Lawman). They’re living on their Montana ranch, with their beloved son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their infant son Jimmy. It’s a picturesque existence, until it falls apart when James is thrown from a horse and instantly killed. Cut to three years later, as the widowed Lorna is marrying Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) in a small and depressing ceremony within the Town Hall.
Margaret in particular, had never fully warmed up to the insecure and relatively quiet Lorna, but later regrets not being more of a mother figure to her. Now that she’s with the no good, abusive Donnie, who has taken Lorna and their grandson without notice. Margaret announces her intentions to find them and save her grandson. She only has a vague idea of where the Weboy family lives; but she’s leaving, with or without George and firmly says to him, “I won’t be coming back without him”.
Instead of director Thomas Bezucha playing up the urgency of the Blackledge’s road trip. “Let Him Go” holds tight on Margaret and George as they work through some personal issues during the journey, that takes them into the dangers of rural North Dakota. Bezucha who adapted the screenplay from the 2013 novel of the same name by Larry Wilson, maintains communication between Margaret and George as they have honest and real conversations. One of the recurring conversations is the expectations concerning custody, as George reminds Margaret of their advancing age, telling her “We aren’t young” as he knows they are in over their heads.
They also meet others along the way, including Peter (in a nice and sensitive performance from Booboo Stewart), a Native American living on his own, sharing a similar tale of a lost family that stirs something inside Margaret. While “Let It Go” doesn’t ignore its “let’s get him back at all costs” plot. Bezucha is comfortable in backing away from the suspense and thriller aspect for long periods of time, rather showing interest in Costner and Lane, as they deal with unresolved grief and a renewal of their love. Costner and Lane have played these parts before, but here they do it with complete authority and delivering some of their best dramatic performances in years.
It was a real cause of celebration for me as the big fan that I’ve been of Costner, who we finally get to see back on the big screen where he belongs. He also serves as an executive producer in his first leading man role since 2016’s underrated actioner “Criminal”. Costner has since kept to mostly supporting roles in “Hidden Figures” and “Molly’s Game” and being hard at work for the past three years in the modern western soap opera, “Yellowstone” series for Paramount Network.
Also not seen in a leading appearance since 2016’s “Paris Can Wait”, is the always reliable Diane Lane. Lane and Costner give it their all, that only showcases what seasoned pros and cinematic gifts they are. They turn what seems like a weepy family drama into an unlikely bone-weary romance steeped in vengeance and violence.
Diane Lane who is never less than magnetic as Margaret, is given top billing over Costner and rightfully so, as she deserves it in what seems to be her movie from the get go. Costner the generous actor’s director he is, gives her the room to breathe and spread her wings before Costner takes over and he becomes the focal point to finishing out the third act as an ensemble piece in equally sharing the screen with Diane Lane.
The first 45 minutes of “Let Him Go” is in no hurry to rush anything, with Thomas Bezucha creating a slow-burn to soak up the atmosphere of the vast open land and explore the lives of George and Margaret and the people surrounding them. When we get nearly halfway through the films running time, the pace of “Let Him Go” really picks up when we are introduced to Blanche Weboy (played masterfully by Lesley Manville), the family matriarch.
Blanche has a snaring venom to her, dressed like a mafia queen of pure Shakespearean evil. The first showdown between the Blackledges and the Weboys, is where we first meet Blanche. As George and Margaret are invited to dinner over plates of Blanche’s pork chops, the scene is charged with tension and dialogue that drips with menace and a patronizing superiority from Blanche to the counterpoint of Margaret’s icy resolve. It’s a true acting showcase for both Lane and Manville, who in this scene alone could warrant her an Oscar nomination.
George and Margaret know they aren’t welcome in her home, even though they’ve been invited. “I hope you all like pork chops”, Manville says with a smile and laugh so sinister that her and the Joker would have made the perfect couple. The tension level in the room and of the scene, is so expertly crafted that it’s one of the best sequences I’ve seen that had left me floored. Not since the dinner scene in Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” have I seen anything like it.
In the scene we also get to know not just Blanche but the entire Weboy clan. You get the feeling they watch “Deliverance” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on those family movie nights. Blanche Weboy isn’t about to let the Blackledges or just anyone else mess with her brood, as made abundantly clear during that aforementioned pork chop dinner gone sideways.
“Let Him Go” is impeccably put together with beautiful location photography by Canadian DP Guy Godfree and a terrific, low-key Clint Eastwood type score by the great Michael Giacchino. The director of photography Guy Godfree, gives us sprawling vistas and shadowy sunsets; that are shot in ways that seem to hide an undercurrent of menace beneath the lands natural splendor.
The graceful editing by Meg Reticker and Jeffrey Ford, should not go unnoticed. As “Let Him Go” explores the initial shock in the death of George and Margaret’s son and transitions to a new tomorrow as we see Lorna marrying Donnie Weboy. Leading up to a scene of Margaret being witnesses to a moment of abuse while coming out of a grocery store. It’s the first of many offerings of uneasiness in the films violence which is the reason for the films R rating (as there is not a single swear word in the picture).
The violence is sparse, but when it hits, it hits hard with the production making sure bodily harm is horrifying to secure the depths of Weboy viciousness and show the audience that they aren’t messing around. This is showcased with one scene in particular that is utterly shocking and cringe worthy. Under all the drama, is a revenge and rescue film that’s honest about the stakes of heroism. Lane and Costner make the Blackledges a couple that become united by the end of their mission and the sacrifices they’ll make for their grandson.
Bezucha has made an American, modern day western noir with echoes of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men” and the films of Sam Peckinpah. It succeeds as an intimate character study of two very different families, that lead to a rousing and violent finale that takes no prisoners. The abrupt tonal shifts throughout the film replicates that of a rollercoaster ride, but may throw some viewers for a loop. When the confrontations go from tense verbal exchanges to sudden bursts of violence, it feels authentic and organic to the foundation to what was laid down in the slow burn, first half of the film.
“Let Him Go” is a tense genre piece that builds out its characters and their flaws, between the bursts of action and suspense. Bezucha manages to balance all of it’s elements with real skill in what is a rather tricky combination to pull off and gives it power in the most unexpected ways.
“Let Him Go” maybe a basic storyline, but it doesn’t let go. With big screen entertainment still limited and folks still a bit weary about coming back out to the multiplexes. Movie goers would be rewarded with getting the chance to spend time with richly defined characters, sharp writing, outstanding performances and when the moment comes, exquisite suspense. Don’t miss out on your chance to see the best movie to hit theaters not just since they re-opened but all year.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4.5 out of 5)