Let Him Go has echoes of a classic western. The heroes are easy to root for, the villains are easy to despise, and the child caught in the middle is easy to sympathize with. That said, the people at the center of this story may too one-dimensionally good and evil for some viewers. While it’s not the most nuanced drama, Thomas Bezucha’s film is a consistently intense and effective one. Much of this has to do with the casting. Every actor is perfectly tailored for their roles, turning straight-forward archetypes into absorbing characters.
Diane Lane and Kevin Costner star as Margaret and George Blackledge, respectively. George is a retired sheriff while Margaret lives for her family. It thus comes as a devastating blow when their son is killed in a sudden accident. To answer your questions, no, their son isn’t Clark Kent and yes, that’ll be this review’s only Superman joke. In a clever bit of editing, this scene is followed by Margaret and George getting dressed up for what appears to be a funeral. It turns out to be a wedding between their son’s son Lorna (Kayli Carter) and a local man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). Of course, the wedding turns out to be even more foreboding than a funeral.
It isn’t until after the wedding that Margaret realizes Donnie is abusing Lorna and her grandson, Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung). Before Margaret can get them away from him, Donnie uproots them to his hometown. Since this is the early 60s, child protective services aren’t exactly what they are today. Margaret persuades George to accompany her on a road trip to save Jimmy, but Donnie isn’t even the most abusive member of his dysfunctional family. That distinction goes to his mother Blanche, played by Lesley Manville in a loud yet chilling performance.
Much like Margaret and George, the audience might underestimate just how brutal and uncomfortable Let Him Go becomes. What gets us through the grittier moments is the sincere rapport between Costner and Lane. Much like Keanu Reeves, Costner is an actor who only gets better with age. At this point in his career, he’s mastered playing stoic cowboys who are most effective when they let silence do the talking. Lane, who’s not in nearly enough movies as she should be nowadays, is full of life as an outspoken woman who does all the talking for her husband. Had the film been made in the 60s, one could easily imagine Gary Cooper and Maureen O’Hara playing this couple.
Costner and Lane balance each other out perfectly in an authentic portrait of marriage. What’s not quite as authentic is the action climax, which is very much grounded in the realm of Hollywood romanticism. That said, the final act is still a nail-biter with just enough satisfying payoffs to feel earned. The performances from Lane, Costner, and Manville go a long way. We also get some strong supporting work from Booboo Stewart as a Native American loner who befriends Margaret and George. Throw in a powerful score from Michael Giacchino, sharp cinematography from Guy Godfree, and Let Him Go is worth holding onto.
Let Him Go is playing in theaters starting November 6, 2020.