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‘Let Him Go’ Review: Family and what we think we can possess

This star vehicle for Diane Lane and Kevin Costner is a solid meditation on the meaning of family.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner in 'Let Him Go.'
(Image: © Focus Features)

Our Verdict

'Let Him Go' is such a compellingly performed and written story that it’s difficult not to be enthralled.

For

  • 🤠Thomas Bezucha's writing and direction impart a lot of narrative nuance.
  • 🤠Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are excellent leads.
  • 🤠The themes of familial possession are potent.

Against

  • 🤠Lesley Manville feels slightly miscast.
  • 🤠The score leans a little too saccharine.

Let Him Go is currently only available to watch in theaters. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend checking it out at your local drive-in. If one isn’t available, please be sure to check out state and CDC guidelines before watching in an enclosed space.

When defining family, it’s easy to fall back on common understandings of blood relation and the contractual arrangement known as marriage, but that isn’t what we often connate the term to mean. “Family” is supposed to be a network of love and support, the people in our lives who enrich us emotionally, and for many people that does take the form of their biological relations. But there is a toxic undercurrent to that dynamic, where the people we claim to love are simply the expressions of our desires to hold the idea of family close. This is the underlying theme of writer-director Thomas Bezucha’s Let Him Go, and adaptation of Larry Watson’s novel that somberly and excitingly dissects what it means to love our family.

The film opens in 1961 on Margaret (Diane Lane) and George Blackledge (Kevin Costner), enjoying a nice Montana day with their son James (Ryan Bruce), daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter), and infant grandson Jimmy, only for the day to turn tragic when James falls from a horse and breaks his neck. Two years later, the Blackledges witness the small wedding ceremony of Lorna and Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and mourn that Jimmy (now played by Bram Hornung) will no longer be living with them. After Margaret witnesses Donnie hitting Lorna and Jimmy in public, she becomes concerned for Jimmy’s safety, which is only reinforced when Donnie, Lorna, and Jimmy up and move without a word of goodbye. Margaret convinces a reluctant George that they need to go get Jimmy back, so they set out on a road trip to the Dakotas to track down Donnie’s family.

The obvious moral standing Margaret has in wanting Jimmy back is a solid starting point of a dramatic thriller, but what makes Let Him Go interesting is that the nuances of the characters’ relationships start to make questions of motivation more than merely academic or as simple as they first appear. One gets a distinct sense that Margaret sees Jimmy as a surrogate for her lost son, and George is less committed to getting Jimmy back than with providing his wife with closure. It’s quickly apparent that Lorna’s safety is a secondary consideration, and there’s little consideration of what such a trip might eventually have to cost Margaret and George in order to take back their grandson. The film never goes so far as to question whether Jimmy and Lorna should stay in their abusive situation, because that isn’t a nuance even worth exploring. Rather, Bezucha’s direction and writing does an excellent job, often without dialogue, of showing how very human motivations to regain familial connection aren’t necessarily aligned with the obvious motivation Margaret uses to justify her righteous quest.

This becomes all the more apparent when the couple finally come to confront Blanche Weboy, Donnie’s mother and head of the Weboy family (played by Lesley Manville with such ridiculous hair that I have to believe it an intentional character choice). Blanche is the dark reflection of Margaret’s possessiveness over Jimmy, wielding power over her clan of adult male children with cultish authority and a righteous certainty that anyone brought within her domain is hers to command. This foil to Margaret’s crusade tips over into shocking violence in the latter half of an otherwise sedate experience, exploding into such a poignant and devastating climax that it’s easy to forgive some of the slow pacing that precedes it.

The only major sticking point is with one of the main trio of performances. Lane and Costner are perfectly cast as the stern and compassionate country grandparents that the film’s target audience will likely fondly remember having themselves, and their characters’ pathos are complex enough to inject self-doubt and real tragedy into their archetypal framework. However, Manville, despite delivering a legitimately threatening performance, seems miscast, lacking the physical presence to enforce the power behind her threats. This may have been an intentional contrast to the muscular power of the Weboy sons, but it’s hard not to imagine an actress like Margot Martindale slipping to this role much more comfortably and with more gravitas.

Minor casting woes aside, Let Him Go is an astute drama that deconstructs familial love and leaves you without clean answers about what costs are worth paying in the name of that love. It does have its share of imperfections – a few scenes could be tighter and Michael Giacchino’s score is perhaps a little too saccharine for its own good – but it’s such a compellingly performed and written story that it’s difficult not to be enthralled in the long run.

Let Him Go is in theaters on November 6, 2020.