LET HIM GO – Review
LET HIM GO is a Western set in early ’60s Montana, starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane in a heroic fight, not to save a town as in a classic Western, but to rescue their grandchild. When their son James (Ryan Bruce) dies suddenly, he leaves a hole in the hearts of his parents George (Costner) and Margaret (Lane) Blackledge, as well as a young widow Lorna (Kayli Carter) and infant child named Jimmy. When their daughter-in-law remarries, things change, but then her abusive new husband, Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), unexpectedly relocates his wife and stepson to join his family in his home state. There was no warning and the young couple left no address yet strong-willed Margaret is determined not to let her grandson go. George, a retired sheriff, tracks them to an area North Dakota. While Donnie’s name rings no bells with George’s law enforcement contacts nor locals in North Dakota, the Weboy names sure does, as a notorious, fearsome family led by a Ma Barker-like matriarch, Blanche Weboy (a fiery Leslie Manville). Despite the unlikelihood of success, Margaret and George aim to bring their grandson back to Montana, and embark on a mission to persuade the Weboys to “let him go.”
LET HIM GO is a bit of fooler, starting out like a polite family drama with fine Oscar-bait cast and settings, a drama about loss and a character study of the older couple – until in the final act, when it transforms into something more like a violent thriller.
Director Thomas Bezucha adapted Larry Watson’s novel of the same name. At first, LET HIM GO builds up a confrontation over child custody, a timeless topic, along with an exploration of the Blackledges’ anguish over possible loss of their lost son’s only child, as much a character study of the two people in this long marriage as anything else.
This drama is set against the sweeping vistas of a Western landscape. It makes for a visually-pleasing, award-minded drama but pretty conventional stuff. But then the film takes an unexpected move, shifting into something else in the final act, when the couple faces the wild Blanche Weboy (Leslie Manville), the fiery matriarch of a violent, powerful family.
LET HIM GO has plenty of visual references to classic Westerns, including those of John Ford, despite to it’s mid-20th century setting. The finely crafted films has gorgeous locations shots (actually shot in Alberta, Canada) that include plenty of big-sky scenery, and lovingly perfect period details in sets and costumes. But what seems like a mild, quiet, thoughtful drama then shakes us up with a sudden turn into crime thriller violence.
It is a jarring but thrilling shift but it makes for an heck of an entertaining film, and one that works on several levels, thanks largely to its sterling cast. That cast is rounded out by Jeffrey Donovan as Blanche’s henchman like younger brother Bill Weboy, and Booboo Stewart as a young Native American hiding out in the North Dakota wilderness, who befriends George and Margaret.
Both aspects of the film – the dramatic exploration of a couple’s sense of loss as their only grandchild, the son of their lost only child, is swept away from them when their daughter-in-law remarries and what happens when they confront the bullying Weboys – are well-crafted Yet taking what seems like a quiet familiar family drama into this dark twist really changes what the film is saying. The exploration of a couple grappling with loss reaches a crisis when determined Margaret decides to track their grandson with a reluctant George in tow, to the home of the domineering matriarch of his stepfather’s family, Blanche Weboy, who declares that the boy “is a Weboy now” and dismisses the pain of the grandparents. But these two are unlikely to go away quietly.
The reversal of the expected pattern of the ex-sheriff leading this pursuit is one of many intriguing aspects of LET HIM GO. The plot is entertaining but what really makes the film cook are the performances. Leslie Manville plays the iron-fisted, gangster-style matriarch of the Weboys, a family known for violence who dominate their little corner of North Dakota. Kevin Costner plays a steely, man-of-few-words retired sheriff, but also a man with a dark view of life. At one point he says life is nothing but a series of losses. He has serious doubts about what they are doing but loyally determined to stand by his beloved wife. Diane Lane plays that wife, a bit of a dreamer, who thinks she can talk anyone into doing things her way, with a confidence in her own charm that sometimes clouds her judgment. Her dreams about how it will all work out aren’t always grounded in reality and it takes her plain-spoken husband to make her see the facts. These flawed but appealing characters are set on doing what they believe they must do, bring their grandson back home to Montana.
The film upends expectations over and over, after building an expectation of the comfortably familiar. The couple look conventional at first but it is Diane Lane’s Margaret who is the strong one, the one driving the quest to reclaim their grandson, while Costner plays the more passive one who goes along, reversing the expected gender roles. It is Margaret who is too focused on her grandson Jimmy to see where she has gone wrong in her relationship with her daughter-in-law.
The wonderful Manville is a glowing menace in a wavy blond wig straight out of classic Nashville country music, who brow beats everyone around her, including her younger brother and three sons. She also dominated every scene she is in, outshining her more famous co-stars. It is a meaty role and Manville feasts on it. Manville’s Blanche is just as determined not to “let him go” as Lane’s Margaret is to take young Jimmy back to Montana with her.
The final showdown lights up the screening in a burst of bracing violence, firing up the audience in a thriller ending worthy of the best of classic drive-in Bs.
LET HIM GO opens in theaters on Nov. 6.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars