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Review: Let Him Go

November 6, 2020

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

An older couple fight to save their grandson and daughter-in-law from a violent family of hillbillies in Let Him Go. If that sounds like an overly simplistic description of writer/director Thomas Bezucha’s film, which was adapted from a novel by Larry Watson, it’s also the easiest way to describe the bare bones plot of this melodramatic, Neo-Western thriller.

I don’t want to belittle the film too much, so I should add that it is entirely serviceable as a piece of old school entertainment. It also boasts a good cast, features attractive cinematography courtesy of Guy Godfree, and Bezucha does stage some engaging sequences throughout the film’s nearly two hour running time. But Let Him Go also never quite rises above its somewhat humdrum level.

The film begins with retired lawman George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) enjoying a happy life together on their Montana farm with their adult son James (Ryan Bruce), daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter), and baby grandson Jimmy. But the peace is broken when a panicked horse runs by without a rider, and George finds James dead on the ground in a riding accident. Jimmy then ages a few years, and we watch as Lorna is getting remarried to Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), who happens to be the member of a notorious family whose name evokes fear.

When I say this is how the film begins, I mean it literally; everything that I just mentioned happens within the span of the first ten minutes, which feel far too rushed to deliver the needed impact. The film’s pacing does smooth out as it goes along, but because we have barely even gotten to know the characters by this point before all of these things start happening to them, many of them are left to feel like under-etched stereotypes.

A minute or two later, Lorna and Donnie have moved out on their own with Jimmy, and we watch as Margaret witnesses Donnie abusing Lorna and being aggressive with her son, which is the big inciting incident for the plot. Donnie then whisks Lorna and Jimmy away in secret to live with his family in North Dakota, and Margaret and George set out on the road to find them, determined to be reunited with their only grandson. This forces them to go up against Donnie’s mother Blanche (Lesley Manville), the deranged matriarch of the vicious Weboy clan.

The film builds towards a violent finale that is fairly well staged, if somewhat tonally jarring in its brutality. This is one of those films that is meant to be laden with symbolism, i.e., the title of Let Him Go applies to different people and takes on new meanings throughout as the story evolves, and these deeper themes vary in subtlety and effectiveness. While the script features some corny dialogue exchanges and the film’s moments of sentimentality generally feel heavy-handed, the performances are mostly solid enough to carry us through.

Costner and Lane both deliver good, old fashioned performances, but Manville is the real scene-stealer here, going full Mommie Dearest with her compellingly over the top turn as a fierce mama bear who will do literally anything to hold on to the people around her. The grandma-on-grandma catfights between Manville and Lane are entertaining in a tawdry sort of way, and some of the high points of this decent if overall unremarkable throwback film. Finally, Let Him Go features an appropriately melancholic, Western-inspired musical score by Michael Giacchino that helps set the mood.

Let Him Go is opening in select theatres across Canada today, please check local listings. It’s being distributed in Canada by Focus Features.

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