Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 5th, 2020
Let Him Go (Thomas Bezucha, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
A melancholy 20th-century Western that openly proclaims its status as elegy, Let Him Go, from writer/director Thomas Bezucha (Monte Carlo), offers the appealing pairing of Kevin Costner (McFarland, USA) and Diane Lane (Paris Can Wait), he playing his age and she playing a little older, as a husband-and-wife duo in early 1960s America who go after their grandson when his new stepdad spirits him away. The film opens with tragedy, the couple’s adult son dying in a freak horse riding accident, leaving his young widow, Lorna (Kayli Carter, Private Life) and infant child, Jimmy, behind. Flash forward a few years, and she remarries, though that union proves quickly unhappy. Before the grandparents can help out, the newly constituted family vanishes. From there, the search is on. Though cars may be involved, we are in the vast plains and mountains of Montana and North Dakota, as perfect a setting for a mournful ode to the Western genre as there ever was. If the movie later descends into over-the-top caricature and violence, at least we have these earlier moments of profundity.
For much of the first half, we are in the company of Costner and Lane’s George and Margaret Blackledge. He’s a retired lawman (of over 30 years service), and she his life partner in all ways. They have a congenial, if gruff, rapport, clearly still very much in love but also rarely feeling the need to say it. The most emotion we see from them is over their progeny. Devastated by the loss of their own boy, we know they will never rest until they recover his son. True, their former daughter-in-law’s marriage is legal and no laws have been broken … yet … but they know something is wrong, and are determined to fix the problem. Plus, until the wedding, Lorna and Jimmy had lived with them, and though Margaret never quite warmed to the former, they know bitterly feel the loss of the latter.
Beautifully photographed as George and Margaret make their way East, frequent magic-hour shots highlighting the majesty of the landscapes, Let Him Go cannot but fail to not quite live up to these quiet scenes of buildup. Sure enough, once our protagonists discover their quarry’s whereabouts, we enter into completely different narrative territory, as if we started with Shane and ended with Johnny Guitar. Tonal shifts can work if done well, but here the characters we next meet deliver performances from a completely different kind of movie. Led by a scenery-chomping Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), playing the matriarch of the Weyboy clan of which Lorna’s new husband is unfortunately a part, the second-half ensemble seems determined to ruin the qualities of storytelling that we had heretofore enjoyed.
Which, for sure, is no doubt part of Bezucha’s strategy, demonstrating how no idyll can last. But when one antagonist is shot in the climax, falling backwards into the flames of a burning home, yelling, “I’ll see you in hell” (or something like that), we lament the loss not only of peace but of commendable cinematic restraint. Still, there’s enough quality here to merit appreciation, even if the dramatic house comes tumbling down (quite literally, as it turns out) in the final sequence. Westerns, your time is long gone; don’t we know it.