Despite Kevin Costner and Diane Lane perfecting the kindly rural American in Man of Steel, in no way should they be confused with the kindly rural Americans they embody in Let Him Go. Superman’s parents they are not in Thomas Bezucha‘s slow-burn thriller, a 1960’s set, western-slanted revenge piece that takes a little longer than it should to get where it needs to go, but packs enough of a punch upon arrival to make it worth the journey.
Adapted from Larry Watson‘s 2013 novel of the same name, Let Him Go starts on a somber, quiet note as we observe George and Margaret Blackledge (Costner and Lane) in their Montana ranch, tending to either their horses or doting on newborn grandson Jimmy. Without much dialogue to accompany, we can sense that their son, James (Ryan Bruce), is their pride and joy, and James’ wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter), is someone they haven’t warmed to.
Within literal minutes of Let Him Go starting, James is tragically killed in a horse-riding accent, leaving the family understandably devastated. A marriage soon follows – the film smartly framing this as a misdirected scene of sorrow for George and Margaret – as Lorna weds the seemingly clean-cut Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), a relationship that feels bred from convenience rather than connection.
Whilst this admittedly doesn’t take up much of the film’s 114 minute running time, it certainly never feels like it’s in a hurry. Perhaps too much slow and not enough burn, Let Him Go eventually picks up momentary steam and intrigue when Lorna, Donnie, and Jimmy all vanish, apparently shacking up with Donnie’s family in the outskirts of North Dakota. Fearing for the safety of Jimmy – and, by extension, Lorna – after witnessing Donnie’s violent tendencies, Margaret takes it upon herself to travel to the Weboy residence and claim Jimmy for herself, intending to raise him in the loving environment he deserves; George reluctantly agrees to accompany.
George’s company proves fruitful when they meet Donnie’s uncle (Jeffrey Donovan) – his maliciousness barely contained through his shit-eating grin – and as the situation worsens for the Blackledges, Let Him Go betters itself as a film as it uncovers a hostility that, whilst unpleasant, feels necessary to jolt audiences out of a certain compliance. The brightest spark Bezucha’s script earns is through Lesley Manville, the British accent sinking her teeth into the sinister role of the Weboy matriarch, Blanche.
Blanche is the type of no-nonsense femme who has had to fight her whole life to earn her place at the table, and now that she’s seated she has no intention of relinquishing her position. Margaret may have her steely gaze, but Blanche’s is a stare that pierces both the soul and skin. The first meeting between the opposing families is one rife with tension, and though Lane and Manville take sizeable bites out of the material, it’s Bezucha’s confidence in creating such suspense that sets the scenes apart; quite an unexpected stroke from a director whose main theatrical entrants are the sappy Christmas dramedy The Family Stone and the Selena Gomez-led comedy Monte Carlo.
As tense as Let Him Go manages to be at times, when the film softens itself it loses much of its momentum and the quiet mentality it adopts translates to the threat of boredom. Costner and, in particular, Lane are left to do much of the heavy lifting in these moments, not to mention the slightly on-the-nose musical score, with the intended emotional hit of a subplot involving Booboo Stewart as a runaway Native American failing to garner much interest, even if it’s well intentioned and acted.
Tonally odd and not exactly proving to be the most enjoyable time out at the movies, Let Him Go‘s goods still ultimately outweigh the bad, with the proven talents of Costner and Lane keeping this consistently in gear, even as it threatens to veer off course. A violent finale and the constant threat of Manville’s unpredictability leave more of an impression than the hushed narrative, leaning into the film’s dented mixture of subdued moments and unnerving thrills.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Let Him Go is screening in Australian cinemas from November 26th 2020.