By Christian DiMartino
Thomas Bezucha’s Let Him Go is one of the few theatrical releases that caught my eye last year. Come the start of the pandemic, when theatres shut down, my interest in movies sort of went out the window, and upon the re-opening, a select few got me to the theatre. I had wanted to see Let Him Go, but wasn’t fully in the spirit to return to the theatre. Even despite not getting any sort of award recognition, something still compelled me to see Let Him Go.
I’m glad I finally did.
Bezucha only has three other films, and one of them is the Christmas dramady The Family Stone, and the other is a Selena Gomez family comedy called Monte Carlo. How the same guy made all three movies is beyond me, because Let Him Go is a genre picture that brims with confidence. It’s really well made and atmospheric, a western of the sorts that brings something like David McKenzie’s excellent Best Picture nominated Hell or High Water to mind. It’s a film whose grim tone and atmosphere I couldn’t help but surrender to. Let Him Go might not be a great film, because it does have familiar aspects and it does begin somewhat slowly. Yet the way it unfolds is gritty and thrilling, making this one of last year’s most underseen gems.
Set in 1961 Montana, Let Him Go stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as George and Margaret Blackledge (Blackledge, what a name). As the film opens, Bezucha starts the grimness off early, as we see that their son dies tragically and unexpectedly (while it isn’t shown, it is implied that, while horseback riding, he fell off and snapped his neck). In passing, he leaves behind a wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter) and an infant son, Jimmy. Flash forward a few years later, and Lorna is now remarried to a Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), who the Blackledges aren’t too fond of, but if it makes Lorna happy, so be it.
Well, as Margaret witnesses, not only is Donnie hitting Lorna, but he’s also hitting Jimmy. Not to mention, out of the blue, all three of them skip town. So Margaret and George, a former sheriff, set off across Montana in search of Jimmy and Lorna, with the hopes of convincing Lorna to either let them raise Jimmy, or with the hope that Lorna will leave Donnie and live with them. Yet they get more than they bargained for whenever they meet the rest of the Weboy clan, led by the matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville) and that’s about all I’ll say. Besides, well, it’s never a good sign for anyone if Jeffery Donovan is involved.
Let Him Go does take a minute to get off the ground, but it’s never necessarily dull. But rather, it leaves you wondering just where it’s going. Yet the second that Manville enters the film, if your interest wasn’t completely grabbed, it will be. Manville, a regular in Mike Leigh’s films and an Oscar nominee for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, is electrifying here. She is brief, but you won’t soon forget her. In a performance that’s both wonderfully over-the-top and undeniably frightening, you know from the second she enters the picture that she means business. That’s not to say that Costner and Lane don’t.
Knowing that Costner and Lane were headlining brought a few things to mine. One was that we were in the hands of two veteran pros- two stellar actors who often just appear in bit parts these days, but when given the chance to shine, they do. Another was the pairing of the two. The pairing felt so right to me, truth be told, for whatever reason, I was under the notion that they’d done multiple movies together over the years. Turns out, besides Let Him Go, the only other film they share is Man of Steel, where they played Superman’s parents. Perhaps it’s because the pairing sounded so right then, but it feels especially right now. Lane and Costner really click together on screen; they have a chemistry that doesn’t feel forced, but it feels organic and natural. As if the two really have been married for decades, and honestly the two work wonders together.
The title has a double meaning: it refers not just to the Weboys, who are practically scaring Lorna and Jimmy into staying, but it also refers to Margaret and George’s difficulty with dealing with grief. Lane in particular is really strong here, as a grieving mother who gets hot-headed at times. The film feels like a western, what with its cinematography and atmosphere, but it also happens to be a compelling drama about grief and coping that also turns into a nerve-wracking thriller. It is pretty impressive how Bezucha is able to pull off the switch in gears, and it’s mostly because of the groundwork laid out by the first act. There is the occasional cliché in Let Him Go, but it hardly matters because of the really good work on display all around.