Let Him Go is many things all at once: a family drama, a thriller, a slice of Americana, and an examination of motherhood. What's amazing is that it's a great example of all those things. Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha (based on Larry Watson's novel), the movie gets you to experience the entire gamut of emotions in just two hours. A taut 1950s-era story combines with the strong chemistry between stars Diane Lane and Kevin Costner to create an electrifying, powerful, and haunting cinematic experience. This is one of the very best adult dramas in years.
Costner plays retired sheriff George Blackledge and Lane is his wife Margaret. A year after their son dies in a tragic accident, his widow, Lorna (Kayli Carter), remarries a guy named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). While in town one day, Margaret sees Donnie abuse Lorna, as well as her grandson Jimmy. She tells George, and they go to the apartment where Lorna and Donnie live, hoping to take custody of the boy. Instead, they find that Donnie has abruptly packed them up and moved to parts unknown.
Margaret wants to go in search of Jimmy. George is reluctant. She eventually convinces him, and they depart their Montana ranch to begin the process of tracking down Donnie. They find themselves entering the most rural parts of the Dakotas, where they locate one of his kin, Bill Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan). He, in turn, introduces them to the Weboy family matriarch, Blanche (Lesley Manville). Let's just say that these are not good people, and they have no intention of surrendering little Jimmy.
Let Him Go expertly builds suspense in subtle ways. Every time George and Margaret pursue a lead, they're met with a variation of “You really don't want to find those people.” We subsequently sense how dangerous the Weboys are before even meeting them. The search additionally takes the couple further and further off the grid, leaving with them few options for help should they need any. In fact, the only person they can count on is Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart), a Native American loner the couple encounters by chance and ends up befriending. Once Blanche enters the picture, we're already a nervous wreck because we understand what the Blackledges are up against. Tension builds even further from there.
Costner and Lane co-starred together in Man of Steel. After Let Him Go, however, I want them to star in all the movies together. The dynamic they work up is striking. George is one of those old-school types who rarely speaks, yet says something important when he does. He's not the driving force behind the mission, though. She is. Margaret is a fierce, determined woman willing to sacrifice anything and everything to protect their grandson. When her husband is inclined to back off, she pushes him forward. The manner in which the story pays off that aspect of their relationship will stay with you long after the movie is over. Both stars deliver performances that are among the highlights of their respective careers.
As Blanche, Lesley Manville is nothing short of chilling. The actress's take on the character is that she's one of those people whose presence is so intimidating that it scarcely matters who her opponent is. Blanche is a human barracuda who backs down to no one. Watch the scene where the Blackledges meet her. George gives looks that indicate he knows this woman is no shrinking violet. She scares even him. That Manville makes this quality authentic is a testament to how explosive her work is.
Let Him Go has a lot of depth underneath its intense story. The love George and Margaret have for Jimmy – a love that makes them put themselves in danger – is palpable throughout, creating genuinely high stakes. The subplot with Lorna also addresses domestic violence and how hard it can be to get away from an abuser. And, of course, the viewer is invited to compare the three moms here (Margaret, Lorna, and Blanche) and notice the differing approaches to motherhood that they take. Substance and excitement are present in equal measure.
I haven't seen a more gripping movie in 2020. Let Him Go is a masterpiece.
out of four
Let Him Go is rated R for violence. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.