Synopsis – A retired sheriff and his wife, grieving over the death of their son, set out to find their only grandson.
My Take – While I have been a spectator to a notorious amount of films in my lifetime, ranging in genres of all kinds, for some reason I have always had a soft spot for films that manage to add elements of a Western into its narrative. Probably because it’s a delight to always see good people going up against a set of thick headed bullies who clearly outnumber them, and deserve a good amount of smashing.
In his latest, writer/director Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone, Monte Carlo), blends elements of noir, drama, and suspense into a Western to create a generally searing character study that starts out as a melancholy look at loss and grief before evolving into a sea of shocking violence.
Adapted from the 2013 novel by Larry Watson, here, director Bezucha shows that he clearly isn’t afraid to indulge in different genres on his way to create a classic David vs. Goliath story like a last-stand Western, but with a lot of heart. It dabbles in family drama, detective stories and the classic tale of a criminal family being defied by upstarts.
It also helps that the film is headline by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, who here reunite following their applause worthy chemistry as human parents to Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel. With the only twist this time around being that Kevin Costner‘s morally straight average Joe serves as a sidekick to Diane Lane, who runs the show, making it a clever twist on western genre and on our preconceived notions considering the profile of these two cinematic veterans.
Set in the 1963, the story follows George Blackledge (Kevin Costner), a retired sheriff, and Margaret Blackledge (Diane Lane), a quiet but loving couple who live on their Montana ranch with their adult son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their infant son Jimmy. Tragedy strikes the family when James is killed in an accident on the property, leaving them all distraught. Three years later, Lorna begins seeing and eventually marries a seemingly good man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), who they believe will be a great step father to Jimmy.
Unfortunately for Margaret one day she happens to observe Donnie physically abusing both his wife and their grandson in the open, plunging doubts regarding the alliance in her mind. To make matters worse, without warning and goodbye to the Blackledge, the three suddenly leave the motel they’re staying in, without any hint of their destination.
While George’s investigative talent and Margaret’s determination to not lose sight of their grandson, eventually leads them to the Weboy family ranch in North Dakota, where they are introduced to Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville), the family matriarch, they soon realize that the family effectively controls the area, and are actually holding Lorna and Jimmy as prisoners. Though the Blackledges maintain the guise that they just want to see their grandson, but in fact they are convinced to remove their grandson and their former daughter in law from their situation.
The script is intricately plotted but driven by simple motivations. It’s a slow burn to begin with but turns intense edge of the seat white knuckle ride towards the end. A tremendous dinner scene mid-way through is also simple fantastic. As evident from this 2005 film, The Family Stone, director Thomas Bezucha has a knack for tight-knit clans. As the Christmas film, also involved an outsider attempting to infiltrate a hostile home. That hostility, however, did not involve guns or axes, only mean future in-laws. Making this film a more tense and brutal experience.
Among many other things, the film also happens to be a patient study of a marriage and a violent examination of loyalty to bloodlines over lawful union. There are times when it comfortably slips into what I expect most would call a traditional film, and by that I mean the kind which centered on a singular mood and purpose that its audience can feel its way around for a couple hours. That is of course until it all blows up in the finale.
However, the film’s most unexpected elements is the presence of Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart), a young Native American, who lives off the grid outside the town that the Weboys control, who takes pity on the Blackledges both on their ride into town initially and then after they suffer a tremendous defeat days later. Margaret in particular seems to gain inspiration from Peter’s stand to live outside of society rather than get treated like a second-class citizen.
However, it is hard to overlook how the sudden and occasionally unevenness the film suffers from as it goes on to increases the dramatic tension as well as violence. The film just doesn’t quite comment as starkly on its characters’ behaviors or the nature of violence as thoughtfully as it intends to. Also, the motivations of the characters are rather predictable, and outside of Blackledges, I did not find the rest of them to be especially engaging. Even though the characters are well-developed, the roles they play in creating some of the story’s suspense are not inherently unique as one would have expected it to be.
Sure, Bezucha’s direction isn’t going to win him awards, but its solid journeyman work that never interferes with the film’s thrust. We get plenty of beautiful scenery and a great score, but he knows that the best course of action for the film is to let his stars take the reins and not let flashy direction get in their way.
Performance wise, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are generally powerful all around, giving clear emotional depth as well as a real sense of genuineness and urgency while in character. They’ve got palpable chemistry and their heroic intentions are never in doubt, even as they convey immense heartache and melancholy for their current and past situations. Lane in particular stands out, as her Margaret is the film’s driving force, struggling with a righteous anger that propels the film forward. She’s the true star here, and Costner merely her somewhat reluctant, but unflinchingly loyal partner.
It is a hoot to see Lesley Manville go over-the-top as nasty Blanche. She’s going for outright scenery chewing villain work here as the matriarch of the Weboy family. It’s a fun performance as she reveals herself to be the misanthropic, evil heart of a monstrous family. Jeffrey Donovan is also memorable as Bill Weboy, a member of this sadistic bunch, while Booboo Stewart, Kayli Carter and Will Brittain are also good in their respective roles. On the whole, ‘Let Him Go’ is a slow burn yet gripping old fashioned thriller that is both well-acted and well-shot.
Directed – Thomas Bezucha
Rated – R
Run Time – 114 minutes