In Brief: An all over the place thriller set in Montana and North Dakota in the late 1950s. Very good in spots and tedious in others.
It’s the late 1950s in Montana. George and Margaret Blackledge lose their only son in a horse riding accident. They stay in touch with the daughter-in-law because she has their only grandchild. There isn’t a lot of love or much of a connection, but they do stay connected.
A few years later she remarries.
Not long after the nuptials, Margaret witnesses the new husband beating on his new wife and whacking the kid around. Naturally, it upsets her. Margaret decides to sit and think a bit on what to do but before she can confront them about the abuse, the ex-daughter-in-law and the guy leave town and take the kid to North Dakota.
Totally upset about possibly losing their grandchild forever, Margaret convinces a head-scratching George to pack the station wagon with provisions and go find them. Margaret’s hope is that once located, the ex-daughter-in-law will cough up the kid and let she and George raise him.
It’s a pipe dream filled with pitfalls.
The abusive jerk is a Welboy. They pretty much own the little Dakota city where he and the ex now live. The family is led by Blanche Welboy. She’s a controlling shrew with sociopathic tendencies. No way is the child going anywhere.
Thus the title, Let Him Go.
The film stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as George and Margaret. Oscar nominee Lesley Manville (2017’s Phantom Thread) plays Blanche. The rest of the cast is filled with no-name actors with adequate fill-the-bit-parts skills.
The best of the bunch is Jeffrey Donovan who plays Bill Welboy. He’s creepy personified.
Let Him Go is classic Costner. His often monosyllabic delivery fits the very few lines George is forced to deliver in screenwriter/director Thomas Bezucha’s screenplay. Costner’s George is a quiet counter to Lane’s Margaret. In tense situations, Margaret is all smiles and warm handshakes while blathering on with all the sincerity of the stereotypical used car salesman.
None of that works on the bad guys. Nor does it work on George.
Let Him Go has two very good positives. The first is the excellent chemistry between Lane and Costner. She’s upbeat and determined. He’s low key and single-minded about keeping her safe during their almost stupid quest to rescue their grandchild.
Their give and take feels like a real, believable and long-lasting, marriage between two people very much in love.
The other positive, and the biggest positive, is Manville. When she’s in the movie, Manville owns every scene. Blanche is downright scary. She cackles through her lines like she’s the frightening Wicked Witch of the West. Manville makes you believe if Blanche was walking toward you on a sidewalk, you’d want to change sides.
Good stuff and — sorry, can’t resist — other than COVID, she’s 2020’s best villain.
Bezucha’s screenplay is based on Larry Watson’s 2013 novel. In places he has written a very good movie. I loved how he penned the relationship between George and Margaret. Some of the dialogue — especially that coming from Blanche — is very well written.
Other places in the film are fraught with problems and Bezucha either needed to add more to the movie or cut some stuff out.
Here’s an example. Parts of the story are told in flashback form. George is a retired lawman. Hints abound of something that happened in the past that may have forced him to retire. You’re never told. Whether it’s supposed to be a secret just hinted at, or whether that flashback ended up on the cutting room floor is anybody’s guess.
Since I haven’t read Watson’s novel — and won’t likely read it — that will remain a mystery.
There are other holes that — again — bring me back to Bezucha needing to add more to his script or take parts away. I would like to have seen more setup for the relationship with the ex-daughter-in-law and some scenes that connect George and Margaret to the boy they’re willing to risk all they have to get.
My negative rant about Let Him Go could go on and on and in a sense, I’m being a little too negative. If you’ll plug your nose and suspend your sense of disbelief, this is a pretty good movie.
The few action sequences are intense and in places, Bezucha has put together an often powerful, and well done, thriller.
Director: Thomas Bezucha
Stars: Diane Lane, Kevin Costner,
Rated R for violence, language and mature themes. This is an often very good, but equally often, not so good thriller. The chemistry between Diane Lane and Kevin Costner and the outstanding villainy of Lesley Manville save this one. Give Let Him Go a 3 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
This one can be found in theaters in Vancouver. Click here to see where you can see Let Him Go.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.