“Let Him Go” is a character-driven drama that caters to a very specific niche market. If you have a fondness for melodramas that carry a sense of dread until it explodes in surprising and unexpected ways, then “Let Him Go” won’t disappoint.
Reunited on-screen after playing the “Man of Steel’s” adoptive parents, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane star as George and Margaret Blackledge, a retired couple living in 1961 Montana. The Blackledges share their home with son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their grandson Jimmy (Bram Hornung). A few years after a horse riding accident kills James, Lorna remarries a physically-abusive man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), who takes Lorna and grandson Jimmy away from the Blackledge homestead.
Margaret, secretly witnessing Donnie’s abuse, packs up the car to bring Jimmy back home. Knowing Margaret cannot be dissuaded from her rescue mission, George agrees to drive. Using police contacts to track down Donnie Weboy, former sheriff George’s search leads them to Gladstone, North Dakota where the Weboy clan is based (note: when cops have heard of a family and refer to them as a clan, it’s never a good sign).
George and Margaret are soon face-to-face with Blanche (Lesley Manville), the Weboy mob matriarch. Blanche is the kind of coiffed, chain-smoking woman who drinks wine out of a water glass and tells the Blackledges of her toughness. She runs her house with the kind of rigid hand that would make the Great Santini blush.
Seeing that Lorna and Jimmy are essentially prisoners, George and Martha set a plan in motion with Lorna to get both her and Jimmy away from the Weboys. The Weboys soon catch wind of the conspiracy and confront the Blackledges in their motel room. Upon entering and carrying a sack clinking with metal objects, the Weboys remove the hatchet first.
The first-half of “Let Him Go” is a deliberate slow-burn to get to know the characters before they’re thrown into the fire. Once we get to the motel and see the Weboys mean business in all its jarring juiciness, the movie reaches that rung on the ladder where there’s no going back and character development’s replaced with a carnage-filled climax.
Based on the novel by Larry Watson, writer/director Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) uses his actors to his advantage. In plunging an all-American couple into chaos, having Costner and Lane is cunning casting (if they were good enough to raise Superman…). Costner, who also executive produced the film, is at his stalwart best while Lane takes every opportunity to project a tough, determined woman instead of the expected frazzled hausfrau. Also, as Blanche, Manville makes the most of her scenes with a veneered viciousness and belied bravado I haven’t seen since Lee J. Cobb controlled the docks in “On the Waterfront.” “Let Him Go” may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some may find it bitter; others may feel it’s been steeped too long. For me, it was a piping hot surprise that went down smooth.