Let Him Go
Jacob Richardson | 25/11/2020
A chemistry-laden melting pot of drama, romance and loss.
George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) grieve the loss of their only son, whose tumble off a horse left his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) a widow with a young boy. She marries again, to a young man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), who soon spirits her and the boy away from George and Margaret and their ranch in Montana, to live with his mother Blanche (Lesley Manville) in North Dakota. Shocked at the sudden departure, and worried about Donnie’s nature, George and Margaret road trip to North Dakota, only to have their worst fears confirmed - Donnie and the rest of the Weboy family are abusive and feared, not just by Lorna but also by the town, and they set about trying to get their grandson back.
Let Him Go is hard to pigeonhole, because it does so many things well - a tense drama, a believable romance, a treatise on dealing with grief. Without a shadow of a doubt though, everyone can agree that Let Him Go is gripping cinema.
Director Thomas Bezucha isn’t known for his dramatic work, having previously directed Monte Carlo and The Family Stone, both decidedly different fare to what’s on offer here. But he doesn’t pull any punches with this movie, and his penchant for romance and melodrama blend well with the sinister and bleak tone of the movie's more deranged elements. There are definite tonal issues here, indeed some that will make you laugh (the hard switch from Montana countryside to the ‘evils’ of North Dakota being one where the film magic at work to create a visible difference overtakes any effective use of the sequence). Bezucha never lets these get out of hand though, and despite the movie juggling so many tonal shifts, it never fails the balancing act.
One of the most impressive feats of Let Him Go is the chemistry of its two leads. Costner and Lane are utterly believable as an aged couple who are deeply in tune with one another’s idiosyncrasies. Lane’s Margaret Blackledge is a wild stallion, who will fight tooth and nail to get what she wants. Costner’s George Blackledge is a quiet, imposing, retired sheriff, who fully understands his wife’s strength and will, and supports her even in this crazy endeavour. Together, they form a formidable team, and whether it’s the quiet looks between them in a tense situation in the Weboy’s home, or the loving ones across a steak dinner as they reminisce on their life together, they bring a level of prestige and confidence to their performances that sucks you in.
That’s a good thing, because the dialogue in Let Him Go often borders on unbelievability and cliche. Too often can you predict what’s going to come out of the mouths of these characters; too often are you groaning at a line you’ve heard in a million movies before. For a film that is truly hard to pin down in terms of tone, plot and character development, it’s an immense shame that the dialogue just doesn’t stack up.
The supporting cast is an interesting choice too. Lesley Manville is great as the domineering matriarch, but her reveal is so over the top that you almost think the part was written for a bigger A-lister. Jeffrey Donovan as another of the Weboy clan is tremendous, weird and wonderful (mimicking his impressive turns in a string of recent roles), but the rest of the Weboy clan barely make an impact - almost as if they spent all of their budget on Costner and Lane, and had to aim a bit lower for the rest.
It’s a mystifying film - a series of odd, strange choices. A mix of tones that doesn’t quite make sense. A cohort of actors of distinctly varying calibre. A plot that shocks and surprises, and dialogue that distinctly doesn’t. Yet somehow it all works. It’s not a must-see film, nor a widespread cultural phenomenon, but it is undeniably gripping cinema.
Let Him Go isn’t a film you’re likely to let go for quite some time. It stays with you long after you leave the cinema - that weirdly enjoyable, oddly engaging movie that dealt with grief, heartbreak, and loss, along with a healthy dose of gruff action and drama.