Kevin Costner’s days as a box office megastar may be over, but the grizzled veteran still encapsulates his distinct persona in a variety of projects. Whether he’s leading on the big (Draft Day and The Art of Racing in the Rain) or small (Paramount’s Yosemite) screen, Costner has enjoyed a prosperous career second act following his 90’s heyday. The star’s latest frontier drama Let Him Go pits him side-by-side again with Oscar nominee Diane Lane (the two shared the screen as Superman’s parents in Man of Steel).
Let Him Go follows George (Costner) and Margaret (Lane) Blackledge, two parents coping with the sudden loss of their son. With their only other familial bond residing in their grandson, the two travel to find their daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) in an attempt to reconnect their family. When they arrive, they are met with resistance by Lorna’s new husband, who belongs to the wicked Weboy family (Oscar-nominee Lesley Manville is their central matriarch). In order to ensure the boy a prosperous life, George and Margaret prepare for all-out war.
The general set-up reads like a run-of-the-mill western, yet writer/director Thomas Bezucha wisely infuses purpose behind his genre trappings. As the apt title would let on, this is a journey of self-recovery for George and Margaret, as the two try to put the pieces of their life back together following their son’s death. Let Him Go‘s meditative tonality offers a more soulful center than the pulpy marketing materials may have let on, allowing audiences to ruminate with the character’s pains while empathizing with their risky decisions. That isn’t to say that the movie lacks thrills, as Bezucha orchestrates a few tense, dialogue-driven standoffs that register genuine stakes. It all builds to a violent, tight-quarters finale, which matches the film’s quaint allures with its simple, yet effectively old-school delivery.
The quieter approach also provides two uniquely lived-in roles for its assured movie star leads. Kevin Costner continues to display a powerful magnetism onscreen, soundly conveying the ever-beating heart buried beneath George’s gruff exterior. Diane Lane’s veteran poise delicately displays Margaret’s balance of assertiveness and warmth, with the duo creating impressively easy-going chemistry on screen. George and Margaret are the kind of long-standing couple that can understand and predict their partner’s every move, a comfortable dynamic that Costner and Lane imbue with authentic nuance onscreen. Lesley Manville also leaves a notable impression as the Weboy’s wicked matriarch, capturing the character’s verbose nasty streak as a slimy, mustache-twirling villain. She’s the type of antagonist audiences love to hate, as Manville creates a sinister presence from her relatively limited screentime.
Let Him Go extracts a satisfying journey from its meat and potatoes elements, but Bezucha’s familiar scope ultimately limits his own film. While the script works during subdued frames, Bezucha seemingly can’t help himself at times, permeating the film’s atmosphere with sanctimonious speeches and overbearing score choices. I also wish the writer/director implemented a sharper visceral edge, with his mannered framing and over-bearing score lacking the grace to fully reinvent the material’s flaws.
Despite these noticeable limitations, Let Him Go works as a thoughtfully-conceived throwback to the soulful westerns of yesteryear.
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