Review by David Baldwin
Retired Sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) live on a ranch in Montana. Their only son dies suddenly, leaving them devastated and wanting to spend more time than ever with their young grandson Jimmy. So when their widowed daughter-in-law marries into the dangerous Weboy family years later, it becomes imperative that George and Margaret stay in Jimmy’s life. But the Weboy clan, lead by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), may have other plans.
I once described Kevin Costner’s career to a friend as being characterized by him playing either a cop, a cowboy or a fish. Sure I may have only been half-joking about the fish being a go-to (justice for Waterworld!), but the number of movies where he plays a cop, a cowboy or some combination of the two is downright staggering. Let Him Go is one of those films were he gets to combine the two, in a grizzled, “I’m too old for this shit” fashion that I am certain will delight his fans.
But for the non-fans and just about everyone else, Let Him Go might be a bit of a tougher sell. Because while the trailer may suggest it is a nail-biting thriller about the lengths people will go to for family, it hews much closer to a slow burn — one that simmers and fizzles out far more than it should.
While the trailer bait-and-switch is nothing new, I still expected a bit more to Let Him Go. Yes, the thrilling parts are fairly intense (and surprisingly violent), but they genuinely seem out of place for the film. They feel like complete left field moments in an otherwise close knit family drama that seems more interested in spending time taking the scenic route through its beautiful picturesque vistas than it does anything else — including telling us more than surface level details about any of its characters. And anytime we come close to finding out more, Writer/Director Thomas Bezucha either flips to something else or just lets the moment sit there unaddressed. Bezucha does get across the main points he wants to (which basically boils down to Blackledges are good, Weboys are bad), but leaving us with precious few other details makes it incredibly difficult to really feel anything for these characters — and makes the tonal shifts between drama and thriller feel all the more jarring and pronounced.
I would be more willing to forgive these issues if Let Him Go did not leave key plot points up to interpretation, chief amongst them being how did the Blackledges’ widowed daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) end up getting mixed up with a rough clan like the Weboys in the first place? I’m assuming it has to do with how horrible Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) treats her, but then why does she even go through with it? For such an important inciting action, it seems baffling to not really have all the facts or reasons as to why the film gets set into motion. And while we certainly see why the people in the film fear the Weboy clan, I never really grasped or felt like we are meant to understand who they are or why they do what they do. They simply exist as that family you do not want to cross, nor do you want to try to take your grandchild back from. The reasons why do not seem to matter.
Costner and Lane do what they can as the film’s leads. Both are seasoned veterans who more than hold their own against the constraints of the script, but neither leave much of an impression. Costner plays George as the strong, silent type who barely reacts to violent things happening to him or around him. It is nothing memorable and lacks any of the edge he would have brought in the past. Lane is as vividly expressive as you know she can be, but is particularly one note. She knows she wants Jimmy back, will stop at nothing to make that happen and…that’s basically it. Supporting turns from Carter, Booboo Stewart and Jeffrey Donovan are good, but never really get to do anything outside of help move the Blackledges from scene to scene. Donovan’s Bill Weboy certainly speaks in a menacing manner, but his performance does not really suggest anything even close to that.
The only actor who does make any sort of impression on the film is Manville’s Blanche Weboy. She only appears in a handful of scenes, but she manages to be every bit as menacing and devious as Donovan should be — and then some. She practically spits acid with every word that comes out of her mouth. She acts circles around everyone, including Costner and Lane, and her just being in the room seems to elevate the film from simply going through the motions to commanding and demanding your attention. She does not really belong in Let Him Go and her performance certainly deserves a better film to house it. But if there is any reason to see the film, it is for her.
The scenery and vintage look of Let Him Go reminds us of an era that has been all but completely forgotten. There’s so much beauty and nostalgia coursing through its veins, and the attention to period detail is impeccable. But it all means nothing when the story is missing crucial elements, the characters are only minimally described and nearly everyone seems to be acting half heartedly in a family drama that has a habit of switching to a chaotic thriller at the drop of a hat. Manville nearly saves the whole thing with her wildly unhinged performance, but she deserved a better movie to pour her heart into.
Let Him Go hits theatres on Friday, November 6. Please ensure you are cautious and respect all Covid-19 protocols if you choose to see this film theatrically.