LET HIM GO is directed by Thomas Bezucha, who also adapted the screenplay from the 2013 novel of the same name by Larry Watson. Despite being billed as a “thriller” --- and boasting a highly talented cast --- LET HIM GO disappoints on many levels.
Tragedy strikes retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) in 1963 on their Montana ranch. Their son, James (Ryan Bruce), is thrown from his horse and dies of a broken neck. His infant son Jimmy and his wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter), remain on the ranch with George and Margaret until she marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and they move to North Dakota to live with his mother, Blanche (Lesley Manville), and his brothers.
Margaret is convinced Jimmy, now three years old, is in danger and convinces George to accompany her to find them and bring Jimmy back to their homestead. In what universe she ever thought this family --- and her former daughter-in-law --- would give this child up is one major flaw --- of many --- but I digress.
In their search for Donnie, Lorna and Jimmy, George and Margaret are warned about the Weboy clan by several individuals, including the sheriff in a small town, and a Weboy cousin in Forsyth, Montana who sends them to Gladstone, North Dakota. There they meet Bill Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan) who invites them to his mother’s imposing home for dinner.
Upon their arrival, the meeting immediately turns contentious, which is another strike against LET HIM GO. You’re invited for dinner --- wouldn’t you at least try to be civil? But Margaret dives right in with their intention to take Jimmy home with them. Granted, it’s their grandchild not Blanche’s, but just one look at her would tell you she isn’t about to give up the child without a fight.
And that’s exactly what George and Margaret get --- a bloodbath. It’s curious that George, a former sheriff, finds himself in rather dire straits. At one point, Blanche and her boys burst into George and Margaret’s motel room. One would assume George would have been better prepared, but alas, no --- another plotline disappointment.
The last straw for me was a return to Blanche’s house in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night after George suffers a staggering impairment. None of this has been thrilling, but rather a muddled mess with an ending I found ludicrous. David is much more forgiving, but for me LET HIM GO is an unforgiveable waste of time.
Bezucha mentions that Watson’s book is sparse on dialogue, which doesn’t bode well for a screenplay. I understand that George is a man of few words, but even Costner can’t seem to bring him to life. George and Margaret have been married for many years and have grown apart following the death of their son. But this road trip, which is supposed to make them closer as a couple, doesn’t ring true, and I was surprised by their lack of chemistry.
Lane and Costner have worked together before on MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE as the adoptive parents of Superman, so I expected more from this coupling. It’s great seeing Lane playing a strong, determined woman --- she’s perfect for this role. But Bezucha’s script doesn’t allow the development of a relationship between Margaret and Lorna, thus the ending lands on a false note.
From the trailer, I expected a taut thriller. Instead Bezucha rushes through the best scenes without the slow buildup of tension. And Manville is so wasted here. She is an absolutely marvelous actor, but Blanche is overdrawn and at times, dare I say, cartoonish. Her performance reminded me of MOMMIE DEAREST on steroids --- very disheartening.
I like nothing better than a really good suspenseful film, with at least one or two twists and turns. Unfortunately, LET HIM GO has none of that.
Opinion: Don’t Bother!
The crux of LET HIM GO is simple. George and Margaret Blackledge (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) lose their son James (Ryan Bruce) after being thrown from his horse. Surviving James’ death are his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their infant son Jimmy.
After Lorna remarries three years later, Margaret witnesses her daughter-in-law’s new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) strike both the toddler and Lorna on a public street in Montana. When Donnie and Lorna sneak off with Jimmy, Margaret and an initially reluctant George set out to find them with the goal of bringing Jimmy back to live with them at their Montana ranch.
They wind up at the Weboy (pronounced Wee-boy) home in North Dakota. What ensues is a tense meeting around the dinner table with the Weboy mother Blanche (Lesley Manville), her three sons, Donnie, Elton (Connor Mackay) and Marvin (Adam Stafford), and her brother Bill (Jeffrey Donovan). It’s not so much a sit-down dinner as it is a monologue by Blanche who is obviously the source of her sons’ cruel tendencies.
Manville plays Blanche as the domineering matriarch she is, freakishly scary but a bit over-the-top, as well. Rarely allowing anyone else to speak, the chain-smoking Blanche grabs our attention, foreshadowing bad things will surely follow.
We don’t get to know the Weboy clan very well, other than they are determined that Donnie and his family shall remain in North Dakota. Elton and Marvin are comical in that they have practically no dialogue. And as much as they try --- which clearly is a weak attempt --- Margaret and George cannot thaw the cold reception they have received. George, in particular, is a blunt, no-nonsense, ex-lawman of 30 years who has no patience for pussy footing around, and Margaret is not much better.
LET HIM GO now becomes a battle of wills. While Jeanne did not care for this film --- yes there are a couple of noticeable writing flaws --- it’s hard to ignore the veteran cast. Costner is always sympathetic whenever he plays the underdog hero. Lane, with her appealing looks and screen presence, is dogged in her character’s desire to save Jimmy from this band of malcontents.
But it is Donovan who stands out in this story. His portrayal of Bill is equal parts creepy and empathetic. The Blackledges run into him first, greeted by his superficially charismatic grin but we sense a suspiciously evil intent behind the smirk. Bill appears to be friendly, but that dissolves quickly in the kitchen scene. Yet later when George runs afoul of the sons amid a savagely sadistic attack, it is Bill who offers his assistance to help George’s situation.
Speaking of that attack, here the script could have been tightened up. For a sheriff with George’s background which we assume is solid after so many years, he does gain the upper hand with the boys but fritters his advantage away --- far too easily. It is a moment in the film that shrieks for more logical writing. But writer/director Thomas Bezucha --- based on a novel by Larry Watson --- seems in a hurry to get us to the conclusion.
Does LET HIM GO manage to sustain the suspense? More or less, although the “pork chop dinner” could have been better orchestrated in terms of building up the animosity between the rival families. Blame it on Blanche and her “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality, but this scene --- which is clearly the centerpiece of the film --- could have generated a heightened sense of danger at a more leisurely pace.
As far as “pandemic” movies go, one could do worse than LET HIM GO. It’s a film you might enjoy, but once it’s over it is imminently forgettable --- and you’ll be on to the next diversion.
Opinion: Wait for VOD