Diane Lane, Kevin Costner offer gripping performances in 'Let Him Go'

  • Margaret and George Blackledge (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) go in search of their grandson in the film drama "Let Him Go."

    Margaret and George Blackledge (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) go in search of their grandson in the film drama "Let Him Go." Courtesy of Focus Features

  • Blanche (Lesley Manville) and her ruthless family terrify the locals in "Let Him Go."

    Blanche (Lesley Manville) and her ruthless family terrify the locals in "Let Him Go." Courtesy of Focus Features

 
 
Updated 11/5/2020 10:08 AM

"Let Him Go" - ★ ★

A range war rages in Thomas Bezucha's Western-inspired revenge tale "Let Him Go," sort of an AARP variation on John Ford's classic "The Searchers."

 

Michael Giacchino's sorrowful music infiltrates and informs most of this story, and it sounds like a somber, folksy dirge you'd expect to hear while someone's beloved family dog slowly dies.

It works perfectly for what happens to Margaret and George Blackledge (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner), a Montana couple living on a ranch during the early 1950s.

A retired lawman, the taciturn George now keeps his badge and revolver in a drawer. A tough cookie who used to break horses, strong-willed Margaret contents herself with baking goodies and fawning over her infant grandson Jimmy.

Things change when their son James (Ryan Bruce) dies in a horse-riding accident.

Flash forward three years.

James' widow Lorna (Kayli Carter) marries a deceptively nondescript guy named Donnie Weboy (pronounced wee-boy, played by Will Brittain). He seems innocuous enough.

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Until Margaret sees him slap little Jimmy for the crime of dropping his ice-cream cone, then slap Lorna, extremely hard, for coming to his defense.

In quick order, the family skips town without a word to Jimmy's now-alarmed grandparents.

George comes home to find the family car packed for a road trip. He knows that Margaret will go to find their grandson with or without him. He reluctantly accompanies her, to protect her.

That sums up the plot of "Let Him Go," written by Bezucha, adapted from Marquette University professor Larry Watson's acclaimed ninth novel.

By the time George and Margaret track Donnie Weboy to the Dakotas, we have already begun to fear for them.

The locals speak in hushed, frightened whispers about the ruthless, thug-like Weboys, and their domineering, dictatorial matriarch, Blanche.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

When the grandparents finally meet Blanche in her dramatically lighted dining room, she is played by the great Lesley Manville on Ma Barker overdrive, her words dripping with threat while exuding sheer menace beneath a facade of genteel insincerity.

Manville's fine-tuned, over-the-top performance out-Bette-Davises Bette Davis in her grotesque prime.

But the better, wholistic performances belong to Lane and Costner, reunited from when they played another married couple, Martha and Jonathan Kent in "Man of Steel."

These two seasoned vets accurately and subtly capture how older, long-married couples interact with shorthand, knowing looks, and an occasional sense of tolerance for each other.

Bezucha wisely underwrites their dialogue, allowing Lane and Costner to provide "Let Him Go" with its best scenes, even though the more violent, commercial ones will follow until the ending, one that changes the very meaning of this title.

An important disclaimer: With piracy a paramount problem for movie distributors, Focus Features provided me with a "Let Him Go" press screener with my name emblazoned on the lower center of the screen with much larger white letters underneath boldly spelling out "PROPERTY OF FOCUS FEATURES."

This made it difficult to immerse myself in the story, and severely compromised the visual contributions of cinematographer Guy Godfree. So, if you watch "Let Him Go" at theaters, you will see the movie as the filmmakers intended it to be seen.

I wish I had.

• • •

Starring: Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Will Brittain, Kayli Carter

Directed by: Thomas Bezucha

Other: A Focus Features release. In theaters. Rated R for language, violence. 113 minutes

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