Written and Directed by Thomas Bezucha
Based on the novel by Larry Watson
Starring Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Will Brittain, Jeffrey Donovan, Kayli Carter, Booboo Stewart, Ryan Bruce
Diane Lane has had a remarkable career. She has aged gracefully in a field that does not usually allow women to grow old on camera. Starting on stage in 1971, she’s been a major lead actor from her first movie A Little Romance in 1979 at the age of 13 until now, 41 cinematic years later. This viewer’s personal favorite performance is as the sadly beautiful Lorena in the television mini-series Lonesome Dove. In truth, it’s hard to recall any of her works that had not been made significantly better for her presence.
This time, we see her as Margaret Blackledge, the wife of former lawman George (Costner). The couple reside on their ranch in 1963 Montana. They share the ranch with their son James (Bruce), his wife Lorna (Carter) and their newborn grandson Jimmy. Tragedy strikes, resulting in James’ death. Forward three years and Lorna is remarrying Donnie Weboy (Brittain). Not even 15 minutes into the film, we know this marriage can’t end well.
Sure enough, Donnie is abusive. By the time Margaret sees this, she ponders what to do next. She hadn’t even told George before they discover the new couple has taken Jimmy and moved to Gladstone, North Dakota without even a word of goodbye.
From here, the story that shapes begins to clearly indicate that Margaret decides she is going to go after her grandson and daughter in law. George, late to the game, comes home to find the car already packed. Without saying a word he walks toward the front door. Before she can register what he is doing, he tells her gruffly that he’s going to turn off the water so the pipes don’t burst when they are gone. As strong a lead horse as her husband is, we know she can lead him only by gently resting the reins on his neck. It’s a powerful moment that shows the strength of a real couple.
The story has a few more scenes to cement this relationship along the way to North Dakota. While not entirely necessary, it’s a nice series of interactions that show the meaning of true power is not exertion of control, but the giving up of one’s control for the benefit of the other. This is crucial to the story, as when the couple finally finds the Weboy’s home, they find the complete opposite.
The Weboy family has a matriarch who does not rule by speaking softly. Blanche Weboy, in a terrifically horrific performance by Manville, has a reach that is hard to detect, initially. We see just enough to begin with to understand that the boys in her family, including Donnie’s uncle Bill (Donovan), are jailers surrounding their grandson and his mother. Margaret and George are brought into their fold for one brief meeting with Jimmy, only to have him whisked away within minutes.
They try to get to Lorna, who agrees that she doesn’t want her son there. Then they make plans to escape. That’s when the real trouble begins.
Seeing Costner at this stage of his career is interesting. He’s never been completely predictable in his aging process. Though his roles all seem similar, he expresses frailty different than most actors his age. He’s moved from headliner to prominent sideman and back fluidly over the last two decades. We never know which version of the same grizzled but aging hero we will see, or what the role will subject him to becoming. The important thing is he always discovers new ways to evolve.
This is important here, because while he’s a headliner for this movie, Let Him Go is clearly not HIS movie. They don’t hammer us over the head with creaky backs or sore knee remarks. Instead we see a man in full, following the lead of his woman, always there to protect her as far as he can.
They meet an interesting character along the way, Peter Dragswolf (Stewart). His role is exposition, mainly. He does feel a touch underused, in the end particularly. More of Stewart would have been beneficial to the ideal of the family unit. This was not the thrust of the story though.
That role falls to the battle between matriarchs. Manville and Lane work in different ways, but their pull is equally engaging. Manville pretty much shows no concern for presentation from moment one. She’s somewhere between Nathan Burdette from Rio Bravo and Smurf from Animal Kingdom. She knows the extent of her kingdom and has not doubt that she reigns over it all.
Lane’s Margaret is almost completely the opposite. She understands her power, but she’d rather push out on her own than to exercise it. Costner’s George is drawn visibly to her cause, and before long Peter is picked up as well. Her method of leadership feels more genuine by design.
The contrast between the two provides a suitable grist for a story that hurts from the start and never stops hurting. There are moments that make the viewer want to scream in exasperation that only serve to push the story farther than it should in a certain direction. The Costner would not have bothered with words when pulling a gun in Open Range. It’s clear that the situations in the stories are adverse, but imminent danger versus active assault is objectively different and a hard man would know which required action.
This does not stop Let Him Go from being a good film. It only keeps the story from achieving greatness. That’s good enough for me on a Wednesday night.
(**** out of *****)