The first movie to hit audiences at the tail end of the US presidential election has nothing to do with politics but is in actuality an eerie period drama with acting vets Diane Lane and Kevin Costner. Thomas Bezucha’s “Let Him Go,” based on a 2013 novel of the same title by Larry Watson, is only a little bit misleading based on the marketing and the slightly awkward title. But what read on paper like it had potential to be along the lines of a soapy, basic cable movie, is executed rather well and dodges being unintentionally campy like what the original trailer made me worry about.
Set in the early 1960s between Montana and North Dakota, Margaret (Lane) and George Blackledge (Costner) are hesitant to accept the widow of their prematurely deceased son, Lorna (Kayli Carter) is marrying into an intimidating local family with a bad reputation. Margaret, in particular, is attached to her three-year-old grandson, Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung), and is instantly concerned when she spots Lorna and Jimmy being casually slapped around by new stepfather Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) in town. The grandparents quickly decide to save the young boy from possible abuse from Donnie and his family, including dangerous Uncle Bill (Jeffrey Donovan) and family matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville).
If you can get beyond ‘Weboy’ being a rather goofy name, “Let Him Go” is quite intriguing and well-made. By far the best qualities of the family piece are Bezucha’s direction and Guy Godfree’s cinematography. Both of which effectively create a tone and atmosphere that is almost surreal and feels similar to how it feels when you’re experiencing a bad dream and can’t escape no matter how hard you try.
The story itself feels like something out of a Clint Eastwood film from the 1990s, or for a more recent comparison, a Kelly Reichardt feature with a slightly bigger budget. Lane and Costner remind us that they still have it as movie leads, and Manville is effortlessly the scene-stealer of her five scenes, in a refreshing change of pass from her usual English dramas. What’s even more interesting about Lane’s Margaret is that she is clearly a grandmother — though a young one in her mid-50s — and still portrayed as desirable.
“Let Him Go” is one of the nicer surprises to come out of Hollywood in 2020, and hopefully won’t get lost in the shuffle of everything else going on presently.