Kevin Costner and Diane Lane Go West in Dark Thriller ‘Let Him Go’
“Let Him Go” has the luck of featuring two greats in its leading roles. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are the anchors that keep it grounded as an effective thriller that swerves from emotive drama to lunatic family gathering. Pulling off this kind of movie is harder than you think. It takes two pros who know how to avoid looking too self-conscious and can bring out the pathos instead of letting it descend into guilty pleasure territory.
Costner and Lane play George and Margaret Blackledge, who live on a pleasant Montana ranch in the 1960s. Their life takes a hard emotional blow when their son dies in an apparent riding accident. Three years later their son’s widow, Lorna (Kayli Carter), who is left with a son, Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung), marries again to Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). Meanwhile George and Margaret still struggle with lingering pain and the overcoming loneliness of their home. While running errands Margaret sees Donnie hit Lorna from a distance, and act abusive towards Jimmy. Instantly a creeping suspicion awakens and when she goes to check in on her former daughter-in-law and grandson, Margaret is shocked to learn Donnie has packed them up and moved. Margaret and George set out to find the couple and make sure Jimmy is safe.
Director Thomas Bezucha changes from his usual kind of storytelling with “Let Him Go.” A writer of comedies and dramas like “Monte Carlo” and “The Family Stone,” here Bezucha adapts a novel by Larry Watson into a moody drama-thriller that also plays as a neo-western. The environment is part of its allure. Cinematographer Guy Godfree gives a confined story a wide-open feel with vast Montana vistas that give semi-grandeur to any narrative. By having the action set in the ‘60s, Bezucha also ensures the film has a distant feel, like a dark tale someone is sharing from the past. The sparseness of the script makes it more effective. Margaret and George know something is wrong with Lorna’s marriage but tracking her down is much harder than it would be today. The first half of the movie feels like an eerie road trip with Margaret and George driving to rural towns, asking suspicious locals if they’ve seen Lorna or Jimmy. Eventually they find one of Donnie’s relatives, Bill (Jeffrey Donovan), and everything takes an even stranger turn.
“Let Him Go” taking a turn into something truly nuts only works because Bezucha established the tone so well and especially because Costner and Lane are such great actors. There will surely be a few jokes about how they are essentially reprising their Ma and Pa Kent roles from the Superman movies “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs Superman,” but they fit into this couple flawlessly. Costner has always been at home in the western genre. He brings his calm stare and low voice from “Yellowstone.” Lane has more energy as the determined Margaret who might be trying to fill the void left by her dead son by saving Jimmy. The two manage to evoke the intimacy of a couple that has been through thick and thin even when they’re thrown into a wild backwoods thriller.
Finding Bill leads Margaret and George down dark roads, literally, that might not only lead them to Jimmy and Lorna, but to unsettling truths not only about Donnie but about his family. It turns out Lorna has decided to marry into a family of perturbed minds, including Bill, a total creeper, and his brothers. Lording over them is a matriarch, Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville), who enforces an iron rule through intimidation and the occasional slap. Manville is another seasoned professional who will make your hair stand up playing the rural mother from hell. Bezucha stages some intense moments where the Weboy clan look just a few years away from morphing into the demented clan of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The Weboys are one of those American families that will barge into your hotel room at night and threaten to chop you up with axes.
“Let Him Go” has an appropriately fiery finale combining dime novel melodrama with some fantastic acting. Costner and Lane were always strong in serious dramas and action romps. This one has a bit of both combined the amber colors of a well-shot western. And somehow through all the ensuing gunfire and burning staircases, a nice story emerges about a grandmother’s love. Crazy plot twists work best when they’re done with heart.
“Let Him Go” releases Nov. 6 in select cities.