“There’s no way to escape the fact that we’ve grown up in a violent culture, we can’t get away from it, it’s part of our heritage. I think part of it is that we have always felt somewhat helpless in the face of this vast continent. Helplessness is answered in many ways, but one of them is violence.”
Sam Shepard wrote those words which have become a potent mirror to our country’s mindset since its inception. They also become a succinct treatise that paints a blood-soaked picture of the new Western noir thriller “Let Him Go,” an understated and beautifully-acted film of unconditional love and what one will endure to protect their family.
In late fifties Montana, George Blackledge is a retired Sheriff. George and his wife Margaret live a good life on their Montana farm with their son and his wife and their little boy Jimmy. The long-married couple love the life they have made and enjoy having their family close, finding a peace in being grandparents to little Jimmy,
Tragedy comes knocking when their son James (Ryan Bruce) dies in a horse-riding accident.
After a time, their lonely and lost daughter-in-law Lorna (a particularly good Kayli Carter) marries the not so nice Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), a man who is abusive to both Lorna and little Jimmy.
Adding to the tragedy that has befallen the Blackledge family, Donnie runs off with Lorna and Jimmy, retreating to his family in North Dakota. Without a warning or a goodbye, George and Margaret are once again shattered by an unexpected loss.
It is in Martha’s determination to get Jimmy back at any cost, and George’s duty to back his wife (even though he worries that the two are getting too old to raise a young child) where the film finds its soul. It is their journey where they find themselves again after languishing so long in grief.
As Margaret, Diane Lane delivers some of the finest work she has ever done. This woman is a survivor and there are times when Margaret must remind George of this absolute fact. Lane’s performance is purity and love but when Margaret’s family is threatened, there is terror on her face yet a steadfastness in her heart to confront whatever lies ahead in their quest to reclaim their grandson. Margret has faced death more than once and she perseveres. Whatever the cost, she refuses to let tragedy win again. This is marvelous work from one of our most underused talents and, for me, the finest performance by an actress of 2020, so far.
Kevin Costner wears his age well. Still the handsome leading man archetype, the actor has moved on to supporting roles over the past few years, usually playing the stoic and/or heroic voice of reason. It is in his age where Costner has found the next level of his acting abilities. In George, the Oscar winner’s weathered face and gruff voice seems made for the character. George is long retired from his career as a sheriff. We do not need to hear long monologues of the dark things he saw as a lawman. It is all there, in his tone and written on his well-worn face. George has been through it all in his time both professionally and personally. That he may have to meet that kind of bad seed once again, so late in life, is indeed a encumbrance. But he is ready. For his wife and for his grandson and to save his family, George will once again face that fire if that is what it comes to. At this point in his career and in a film such as this one, it is almost an honor to watch Kevin Costner at work.
Director Thomas Bezucha adapted Larry Watson’s novel and has likely studied the styles of early Terence Malick and Cormac McCarthy when preparing this piece. This film is nowhere near those levels, do not mistake the compliment, but Bezucha has drenched his film in a subtlety and patience that most modern filmmakers refuse to allow. This is very much a character piece blanketed in death and a steady hand was the only way to tell this tale proper.
Guy Godfree’s cinematography doesn’t saturate the screen with lighting gimmicks to enhance the beauty of the land. He lets Montana’s beauty come through naturally. Some days are cloudy, some sunny, but the land is vast and open, and its seductive vision shows through without prodding. In its dark colors and sun breaking through the clouds, this is a quite beautiful-looking film.
Michael Giacchino’s score sets the right tone and uses an oh-so-subtle piano and quiet guitar to hint at the emotions while he strikes up the orchestra softly when the moment calls for it. Giacchino is one of the most interesting film composers working today and this is one of his best scores yet.
The supporting cast holds their own with Jeffery Donovan smartly underplaying the menace as Uncle Bill, the immediately dangerous family member who takes George and Margaret to see where their grandson now lives.
Booboo Stewart has a nice supporting role as a young Native American who meets and helps George and Martha along their journey. If his character is somewhat unnecessary, Stewart makes his moments important by delivering a poetic performance that compliments the themes of the film.
Leslie Manville is superb as “Mama Blanche”, the matriarch of Weboy clan. Mellville stops herself just at the door of over the top and creates one of the more vicious villains to come along in quite a while. The actress veers away from histrionics and delivers a believable performance that is likely to earn her an Oscar nomination.
If the film has shortcomings, it is in only two places. The final act is rushed and abrupt While it is needed and we all know it is coming (and want it to) the film should have taken its time a bit more with the resolution. The audience wants revenge as much as the characters do but we are patient. Make us wait a bit longer.,
It would have been nice to have more quiet scenes between George and Margaret. We certainly get them in the film’s first half but the two are so interesting and their scenes so beautifully written and performed that the film’s soul would have benefited from more. As it stands, the moments between Lane and Costner are tremendous in their power.
With this film, Thomas Bezucha (former director of the insipid comedies “The Family Stone” and “Monte Carlo,” if you can believe it!) has made a film that stands alongside the current works of Taylor Sheridan and David Anspaugh, two modern filmmakers who currently own modern Western-tinged Dramatic Thriller.
Bezucha’s film is a strong work and a welcome surprise in the doldrum film releases of 2020. It exists in the world of Clint Eastwood’s “A Perfect World” and John Lee Hancock’s recent “The Highwaymen,” both starring Costner. These are tales of the good and the bad coming to an unavoidable confrontation. But they are also patiently directed tales of character, seeped in the tone of the Western and the sensibilities of the past.
“Let Him Go” is a classically told American tale of family and revenge. It is violent, yes but what makes this film so special is its quest to find the soul of its characters through self-restraint and an unexpected tenderness.