Let Him Go (2020) Review
I KNOW WHAT I’VE LOST!
Since the time of its creation, the western film genre has always been a fan favorite amongst many. Exploding on the scene during the golden age of Hollywood, where studios were churning out various productions made for the big and small screen, this particular genre has garnished many variants of stories of the “old west” satire backdrop, which is complete with the new frontier of the 1800s, saloons, gunfights, stagecoach chases, and many more motifs and nuances that seem to be recalled of the bygone’s days of this genre’s stories. In today’s cinematic landscape, westerns have changed and adapted to modern times; becoming what is now called “neo-westerns”. In this particular category, movies reflect upon the traditions of the western genre, but are set in the modern / contemporary setting. Movies like Unforgiven, The Three Burials of Melquiades, No Country for Old Men, Logan, and Hell or High Water, showcases the prime ideas of what neo-Westerns films present viewers with it the ideas of Westerns, but with new values in this modern age of cinematic tales; encompassing the saying of “the old west is new again”. Now, Focus Features and director Thomas Bezucha present the latest film in the neo-western genre with the release of Let Him Go. Does this movie find its place amongst the modern moviegoers and in its film genre or is it a bland revenge tale?
Set in rural Montana in 1963, retired sheriff George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret Blackledge (Diane Lane) live quietly on their ranch, living with their son, James (Ryan Bruce, his wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter), and their grandson, Jimmy (Otto and Bram Hornung). Their domestic routine is broken when James suffers a fatal accident while riding a horse, with Lorna quickly remarrying sometime after, lured into wedlock by Donnie Weboy (Will Brittan). Promises for some sort of visitation plan for Jimmy are eventually broken by Donnie, who ups a leaves town and brings Lorna and Jimmy to his Weboy family farm in North Dakota, severing ties with Margaret and George. Witnessing Donnie’s abusive tendencies, Margaret refuses to accept the situation, planning a road trip across state lines to retrieve Jimmy and raise him. Reluctantly joining his wife on this journey, the couple enter North Dakota and quickly learn the wicked ways of the Weboy family, with various members of Donnie’s family such as Uncle Bill (Jeffery Donovan) and Weboy matriarch, Blanche (Lesley Manville), refusing to cooperate with the visitors.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I do have to say that Western isn’t one of my favorite genres. Or better yet…. the western genre isn’t the film genre that I am most exposed to. Perhaps because there isn’t a whole lot of “classic” westerns in the modern world cinema. Well, at least not in the straight forward / standard concept idea of what a western feature film was (i.e., the old west, saloons, shootouts, and the like). Of course, there are movies out there that seemed to try and capture that idea such as 2016’s The Magnificent Seven and 2013’s The Lone Ranger, but those are more remakes to otherwise played out narratives. Thus, as I said, the film genre of Westerns has gradually changed into “modernize” tales that invoke several ideas from the genre’s make-up, but keeps the feature grounded in a more contemporary setting. I, for one, like that idea and it shows how the genre has evolved into a different age of cinema storytelling, especially since the avenues of “classic” westerns have been played out for quite some time during the golden age of Hollywood. Thus, films like No Country for Old Men, Hell or High Water, Wind River, Unforgiven, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are very much prime examples of new era neo-Westerns movies. Like I said in my opening paragraph…. the old west is new again!
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Let Him Go, a 2020 neo-Western drama film that seems to continue the idealism of its particular staple genre of filmmaking. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie for quite some time. Perhaps, due to the COVID-19 pandemic going on and with the movie theaters closing for larger portions of the 2020 year, is probably why I didn’t hear much about this particular neo-western drama. In fact, I really didn’t hear about Let Him Go until a little bit after its release date (after November 6th, 2020). I think it was around Thanksgiving when I first took notice of the film, which was receiving general positive praise and reviews alike from viewers. Having a day off from work, I decided to venture to my nearby theater, which was still open and was going to be my first “trip to the movies” since I saw Tenet at the end of August 2020. I decided not to watch the film’s trailer and went into the virtually blind. I knew that Kevin Costner and Diane Lane were the main leads and that it was some type of neo-Western movie with a revenger / suspense thriller angle. Beyond that…. I knew nothing of the film’s plot. After seeing the movie, I got busy with work (holiday season and all) and kept on pushing my review back for Let Him Go for quite some time. Until now, which I finally have time to review the film. And what did I think of it? Well, I really liked it. Despite some minor nitpicks, Let Him Go is gripping and well-acted suspense neo-western endeavor that’s engrossing from start to finish. It’s a bit slow at times, but the patience and payoff by the time the film reaches its conclusion is worth the wait.
As a side-note, the movie is based on the novel of the same name by author Larry Watson. Sadly, I didn’t read the Watson’s book. Thus, my review is going to be solely based on the film itself and not so much on what changed, altered, and omitted in translating Watson’s source material to a cinematic feature.
Let Him Go is directed by Thomas Bezucha, whose previous directorial works include such films like The Family Stone, Big Eden, and Monte Carlo. Interestingly, Bezucha hasn’t done much these past several years beyond a few projects here and there, with a most notable screenplay writing for the 2018 film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This, of course, makes Let Him Go the director’s return to helming a feature film and makes his fourth directorial film with this endeavor. I do have to say that, while I’ve seeing Guernsey and Family Stone, I do have to say that Let Him Go is Bezucha’ s best project to date. It’s true! The way and manner of how Bezucha captures everything about this film seems quite intriguing and alluring; demonstrating his chops for character driven narratives and, while his past projects might have been more lighthearted, is still to present a feature that definitely works within its theatrical depths and gripping drama of grieving and family’s custody. As mentioned, there’s no doubt that Bezucha makes Let Him Go adhere to the neo-western genre of todays film landscape, but makes the film a slow burner endeavor. While some problems do slightly stem from this particular mindset of pacing the movie in such a way, I can assure you that payoff for seeing the film to its end is definitely worth it. Bezucha, much like his past works, plays double duty in the movie in both helming the feature as well as doing the feature’s screenplay; adapting Watson’s novel in a way that both speaks to the genre of Westerns (aesthetics and all), but also in making the movie feeling gripping in its more intense character moments of confrontations and revelations. Additionally, the context of the film’s themes and narrative commentary messages are perhaps one of profound examination in viewing the feature, with Bezucha making sure to sink the film’s teeth into its deeply rooted mindset of power and control as well as grieving over loss and domestic family problems / abuse. Overall, Bezucha excels in shaping Let Him Go into a film that, while initially a bit slow, becomes an engrossing viewing experience that capitalizes by its themes, the film’s director, and by the acting talents involved.
In its presentation, the film looks very much like a solid representation of a cinematic neo-western endeavor; finding Let Him Go somewhat reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood-style project. Shots, cameras, and depictions of the landscape all seem to harken back to Eastwood’s approach to filmmaking, which makes the movie feel bountiful in its setting; a gesture of subversive into the western style movies of old and capturing the beauty almost picture-esque look of the wide-open landscape of the northern mid-west. This includes the Blackledge modest farmhouse, to small / quaint town depicted in the 1960s as well as the almost run-down looking family manor of the Weboy clan. Thus, I do have to give credit to the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Trevor Smith (production design), Cathy Cowan (art direction), and Amber Humphries (set decorations) for the commendable efforts in making Let Him Go gives a certain type of “feeling” in the feature’s backdrop layout. Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by Michael Giacchino, delivers an appropriate melodic composition that certainly compliments the various scenes in the movie…. whether that is ominous and tension-filled in some of the film’s more intense scenes or just quiet and thought-provoking in dialogue driven sequences.
Despite a gripping tale of revenge and suspense, Let Him Go does have a few minor marks of criticism that hold the feature back slightly in my opinion. As I mentioned above, Bezucha shapes the film in the ways and fashion of a classic “slow-burner” endeavor; slowly developing events throughout the movie as they occur. That being said, while the reward for watching this feature in unfold in such a way helps develop theatrical character for the movie itself, it just becomes a bit tedious leisurely way. This is perhaps the most prevalent in the movie’s first act, which is (for lack of a better word) rather slow and displays its scenes (i.e., story beats, characters, etc.) in a way that becomes tiresome for small moments. I personally felt that the movie’s first act went on and one because there wasn’t that much focus nor excitement in this particular part. Perhaps if Bezucha (or his film editors) created a tighter presentation that this particular moments in Let Him Go’s first act could’ve gone noticed. However, they did not and makes the first 30 something odd minutes a bit bland, despite setting up the film’s main narrative plot. The same can be said about the feature’s artistic flourishes that both Bezucha and cinematographer Guy Godfree. It’s terrible and some parts are effective well-done. However, that are some moments, especially most notable during the film’s first act, where the movie delves more into those indie arthouse nuances that can be a bit bothersome. Elongated shots, quick edits, paused moments, and a few other can be seeing in the movie and becomes a bit distracting every now and again. Again, these are more minor gripes of criticisms that I noticed while watching the movie and don’t necessarily derail my enjoyment of watching this film.
The cast in Let Him Go is also another great strength that the movie has to offer, with the talented collection of actors and actresses assembled for the project enhances the characters even more; elevating with some finely tuned and sharply acted performances within the principal players. This is perhaps the most notable within the feature’s two main protagonist characters of George and Margaret Blackledge, who are played by seasoned veteran talents of actor Kevin Costner and actress Diane Lane. Costner, known for his roles in The Bodyguard, Yellowstone, and Dance with Wolves, has always been a more physical character actor in letting his facial features and / or expressions speak for him more than his dialogue character moments. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Costner would do the same in his portrayal of George Blackledge and handles it quite masterfully mind you in spectacular subtle fashion. As to be expected, the character of George is more of a “dialed down” persona in comparison to his wife (Margaret), with Costner able to capture the frustration and grieving sentimentality in a subtle way that both speaks to his large body of work as well in the character for the film. In truth, Costner’s grizzled “bravado” acts as counterbalance to his female led-costar. In short, Costner’s George is terrific in the film and definitely helps anchor the film.
Similarly, Lane, known for her roles in The Outsiders, Under the Tuscan Sun, and Secretariat, is a veteran / seasoned talent that is quite capable of handling herself (and her characters respectfully) in the lead spotlight. Like her co-star, Lane is sublime in this movie; shaping Margaret Blackledge to be the more vocal of the couple and presenting a persona that’s full of fear and determination; never shrinking / backing down from opposition or taking no for an answer. Together both Costner and Lane are perfect as they pair play off each other and its great to see them working together on the same movie. As a side-note, I just couldn’t help but keep on thinking about 2013’s Man of Steel while watching Costner and Lane together on-screen, especially since they played husband and wife (Jonathan and Martha Kent) in that movie.
Looking beyond Costner and Lane, actress Lesley Manville proves to be highly effective in the role of Blanche Weboy, the head matriarch of the Weboy family. Known for her roles in Phantom Thread, Another Year, and Topsy-Turvy, Manville is a force of nature in the movie; chewing threw her dialogue with great ease and really making her character quite memorable. Manville as Blanche is chilling as her interaction with virtually any character / actor she is paired in a scene is gripping and watching her play the part in a villainous way is both mesmerizing and haunting at the same time. Truly, there might not be much to Blanche beyond her persona of being a gritty and headstrong leader of the Weboy clan, but Manville is a talented actress and effortless plays the character of Blanche Weboy that it is hard to look away whenever she’s on-screen…. even if it’s something hostile or malicious. The same can also be similarly said in the character of Bill Weboy, Blanche’s firstborn son, who is played by actor Jeffery Donovan. Known for his roles in Burn Notice, Changeling, and J. Edgar, Donovan easily steps in the role of Bill or rather “Uncle Bill” Weboy, utilizing his acting talents to make for a memorable character in the movie that brings a lot of creepiness and unsettling to anyone’s nerve whenever on-screen. Now, that’s good acting!
In the supporting character roles, the character of Lorna, the widow daughter-in law to the Blackledges’ and now part of the Weboy, is one of a compelling character. Yes, there might not be much to her persona beyond what the initial setup allows, but what’s presented is one of profound measure, especially giving the complexity context of her character position (i.e., torn between doing what is right and fearful of repercussion). Plus, actress Kayli Carter (Bad Education and Mrs. America) does a great job in the role and definitely conveys the right amount of emotional struggle in Lorna. The only character that I kind of felt that was a bit underwhelming was in the character of Peter Dragswolf, a native American young adult who befriends / assists Margaret and George Blackledge on their journey. Naturally, actor Booboo Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) does a good job in the role, so I’m not questioning his acting talent, but rather how the character is written into the story. More or less, the role of Peter in Let Him Go is delegated in service to the narrative; a plot mechanic cog in the machine that propels events forward and just seems a tad underdevelopment in his character, despite having a small backstory to him.
The rest of the cast, including actor Will Brittain (Everybody Wants Some! and Clementine) as Donnie Weboy (the individual Weboy clan member who marries the widow to George and Margaret’s late son, actor Connor Mackay (The Intruder and Dead of Summer) as a member of the Weboy clan named Elton, actor Adam Stafford (The Flash and The InBetween) as Marvin (another member of the Weboy clan), and actor Ryan Bruce (Blackstone and Lucifer) as George and Margaret’s late son James Blackledge, round out the minor supporting players in the movie. Suffice to say, these particular characters are rather limited (due to their minor capacity in the narrative), so that is to be expected. Still, what’s presented works and the acting talents involved are solid…. regardless of how much of an impact that they make in comparsion to the more prominent roles in the film. Lastly, as a side-note, young twins Otto and Bram Hornung do a great job in playing Jimmy Blackledge, the grandson to George and Margaret, as the pair handle the parts quite well.
A retired sheriff and his wife, grieving over the death of their son, set out to find their only grandson, which is met with hostile resentment from those who attend to keep him in their custody in the movie Let Him Go. Director Thomas Bezucha’ s latest film delves into the foray of the neo-western film genre by presenting a very human character-based narrative of family, parental guidance, and suspenseful vengeance. While the movie does have a few blemishes in its undertaking (i.e., a slow burner pacing and artistic flourishes), the film succeeds in being a gripping narrative of revenge and compelling drama, especially thanks to Bezucha’ s direction, an engaging source material, and a superb acting quality in the feature’s cast (most notable in Costner, Lane, and Manville). Personally, I really liked this movie. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from it, but what I got out of it was something that was profound and engrossing; a fine piece of cinematic work that’s worth the watch. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one as it provides plenty of entertainment in a solid presentation of great character-based acting. Overall, while the neo-western genre isn’t quite as popular nor dominate as say the film genres of action, horror, or comedy, Let Him Go stands tall and proud as a beacon for its subgenre category as well providing a talented and enthralling tale of family and how far one would go to protect the ones that they love the most.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 6th, 2020
Reviewed On: January 26th, 2021
Let Him Go is 113 minutes and is rated R for violence