WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Margaret (Diane Lane) and George (Kevin Costner) Blackledge are a retired couple, living out their twilight years on their ranch with their son, his wife and their newborn son when tragedy strikes and their son suddenly dies in a horse-riding accident. A couple of years later, their daughter-in-law marries a man that neither of them trust and their worst suspicions are confirmed when he takes her and the Blackledges' now 3-year-old grandson and moves across the country without so much as a goodbye. Fearing the worst, Margaret and George head across the country to hunt down what's left of their family and, hopefully, bring them home.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Much has been made of how Let Him Go is the welcome reunion of Diane Lane and Kevin Costner who last teamed up to play Superman's parents in Man of Steel – and they are great together even if Man of Steel is best forgotten. But what's really notable here is how much of a leap forward it is for writer/director, Thomas Bezucha, whose past two directorial efforts were the hateful holiday flick, The Family Stone, and the tween fluff of Monte Carlo.
Bezucha, admittedly, did co-write the script for the pretty delightful The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society a couple of years ago, but his name hasn't otherwise graced a single film or TV show in nearly a decade (Monte Carlo was released way back in 2011). As it turns out, he has clearly used these past nine years to hone his craft because Let Him Go (which he both writes and directs, adapting the novel by Larry Watson) is just a completely different beast from his past work. And a significantly more impressive one, at that.
Nominally a thriller, what we have here is probably better described as an affecting relationship drama turned white-knuckle suspense movie with a western inflection. And, though occasionally, its disparate influences and tones do clash with one another, it's a very well controlled slow-burner of a film that hits all the right emotional beats and gives us memorable characters in which to properly invest.
Costner and, most especially, Lane are superb in roles that give them plenty to work with. Costner's George is a grizzled but gentle ex-sheriff whose quiet stillness is perfectly contrasted by Lane's Margaret: an impetuous, passionate firebrand with a soft side for horses and underdogs. They are entirely believable as a couple who have been through a lot together and whose major differences in personality and temperament bring them together even as it threatens to tear them apart. Their characterisation isn't, perhaps, the most subtle in the world, but it also never comes close to striking a wrong note.
In contrast, the immediately hissable antagonists of the film, the Weboy clan, tap strongly into the "savage redneck" archetypes that you find in everything, from the horrifying "Home" episode of the X-Files to Deliverance to Straw Dogs to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Indeed, the clash between the genteel Blackledges and the unnervingly dangerous Weboys has the feel of a full-on horror film, especially as it threatens, and then inevitably breaks out into moments of, brutal violence.
Now, just because the Weboys are obviously Evil with a capital E, that doesn't mean that there aren't some instantly memorable characters in there – or some pretty spectacular performances too. In particular, Lesley Manville, that most British of British actresses is nigh unrecognisable as the Weboy matriarch, Blanche, with a perfect American-Southern accent and enough seething menace to make the great Alan Rickman proud.
Jeffrey Donovan, meanwhile, who just stole the show in Liam Neeson's latest thriller, Honest Thief, threatens to do so here too as Bill Weboy with his mix of smarmy charm and deranged need to be helpful and makes for a, particularly entertaining and unsettling villain.
By contrast, the Blackledges' daughter-in-law's new husband, Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), is a truly pathetic figure; the runt of the family and all the more dangerous for that.
The conflict between the two clans isn't just a question of narrative and genre conventions, though. The clash between the Weboys and Blackledges is also the battle of two opposing sides to the film: one a pulpy thriller with almost cartoonish villains at its centre and the other a sensitive drama about a family who suffered unimaginable loss.
Even the cinematography by Guy Godfree shifts from wide, beautiful vistas when the focus in on the Blackledges, to something much more intense and claustrophobic when the Weboys enter the picture. Michael Giacchino's wonderful score pulls a similar trick.
Do these two very opposite sides coalesce into a coherent work, though? Yes, but only up to a point. The film and its mad tonal shifts almost entirely worked for me, but I can easily see it rubbing others the wrong way. For a thriller, it is very slow and spends a lot of time getting to its thriller set pieces. For a drama, its moments of violence, over-the-top thriller set pieces and archetypal bad guys may well be a disconnect too far for those enjoying the moving character-drama to go along with. And the fact that it has quite so many predictable genre conventions (a Chekov's gun and a wandering lone American Indian that shows up halfway through the film being two of the most obvious) doesn't entirely sit well with the nuanced character drama either.
Still, these reservations aside, Let Him Go is a very fine genre mashup, bolstered by some fantastic cinematography and killer performances all around. Certainly, as a Diane Lane and Kevin Costner team up, it's a damn sight better than the last time.
Yes. I'm still bitter about Man of Steel.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Let Him Go is now showing in cinemas.