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Let Him Go (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

LET HIM GO (2020)

Starring Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Will Brittain, Jeffrey Donovan, Kayli Carter, Booboo Stewart, Ryan Bruce, Adam Stafford, Bradley Stryker, Tayden Marks, Caillou Pettis, Connor Mackay, Greg Lawson, Aidan Moreno, Ryan Northcott, Misty Kay, Amber Shaun, Will Hochman, Bram Hornung and Otto Hornung.

Screenplay by Thomas Bezucha.

Directed by Thomas Bezucha.

Distributed by Focus Features. 119 minutes. Rated R.

A movie does not have to be about the old west to be a western. It doesn’t need cowboys and Indians and horses and ranches and campfires. Sometimes they will have cars and appliances and electricity.

Let Him Go is a western, and yet as I pointed out above, in some ways it is not. It does not take place in the old west – unless you count the early 1960s as “old.” There is a native American, a couple of ranches, some horses and a few sorta cowboys, but it is not a traditional oater. There is even a campfire or two.

However, it has the slow, measured pace of a classic western. Let Him Go looks at the universal themes of family and outlaws. It has smart people living on the land and stoically surviving what nature and other human beings toss at them, and the constant threat of unexpected violence. It is full of gorgeous mountain scenery, small town values and periodic savagery.

Let Him Go is the story of Margaret and George Blackledge (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). They are an aging couple in Montana. He’s a rancher and former lawman. She trains the horses on the ranch as well as running the house. He is quiet, careful and taciturn. She is outgoing, independent, loving and sort of runs things.

In the opening sequence their adult son – recently married and a new father – is killed in a tragic equestrian accident. Fast forward a few years. His widow Lorna (Kayli Carter) is a shy and a bit awkward and never quite connected with Margaret, but they both – particularly Margaret – dote over their toddler grandson Jimmy.

However, Lorna gets involved with a local ne’er-do-well named Donnie (Will Brittain), with whom she remarries. At first he seems like a nice enough guy, but he moves Lorna and Jimmy into a ramshackle apartment, has a mean temper and apparently has drinking and gambling problems, and one day when Margaret goes to surprise Jimmy and Lorna she sees Donnie hitting Lorna on the street in broad daylight.

And, it turns out, he is a cousin of an infamously shady family who lives in the Big Sky country.

The day after seeing the altercation on the street, Margaret decides to go and save Jimmy (and probably Lorna) from the abusive home. However, they are gone. Word is he decided to take Lorna and Jimmy to live with his family.

Margaret decides that she must hit the road to find Jimmy and bring him home, even though she has no idea where the family has gone. George is more cautious, but he goes because he knows his wife will not be talked out of it and he does not want to send her into danger alone.

And that is basically what happens in Let Him Go. The aging couple travels the highways and small towns of Montana in search of their grandson, meeting eccentric people along the way – some helpful, some not so much – living in the car and on the land, looking for their kin. It is sometimes lonesome, sometimes beautiful, sometimes dangerous. They make friends and some enemies.

Turns out, the enemies mostly tend to be part of Donnie’s violent clan. This roughneck rural Weboy crime family maybe feels just a little too reminiscent of the hillbilly mobsters in the second season of FX’s hit drama Fargo – and that is not just because Jeffrey Donovan is here, playing essentially the same character as he did in that show.

And yet there is something solid, sweet and reassuring about Let Him Go, at least until the slightly overly violent climax.

Lane and Costner make a realistic aging couple – the type that has been together for so long that they do not have to speak in order to know what the other one is thinking. This script is specifically perfect for Costner’s gruff, quiet gravitas and Lane’s tough but loving charm. Other actors are just as good – from Lesley Manville’s matriarch to Booboo Stewart as a sweet and spiritual Native American they meet along the way.

Like I said earlier, toward the end the violence is ramped up exponentially and it comes as a bit of a shock in this quiet and thoughtful drama. However, that too belies Let Him Go’s origin as a bit of a western. Let Him Go returns us to a world that does not really exist anymore, and it is a ride that is very much worth taking.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: November 5, 2020.

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