Author Larry Watson’s contemporary Western Let Him Go gets the cinematic treatment courtesy of writer-director Thomas Bezucha and actors Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. The result is a pulpy genre thriller that packs a welcome emotion through the impressive turns of Lane and Costner, whilst playing with 1960s neo-western revenge drama theatrics.
Retired sheriff George (Costner) and his wife Margaret (Lane) live a content rural life with their son James, his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their baby. However, the sudden death of James leads to Lorna remarrying an ultimately abusive new partner, Donnie Weboy, and fleeing with him and taking George and Margaret’s grandson in the process. The two grandparents set out to find their missing grandson, drawing them into a dangerous battle with the Weboys and their matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville).
Shot with a muted colour palette buy DoP Guy Godfree, Let Him Go tackles the aesthetics of 1960s rural Americana with an impressive, conviction. Capturing the picturesque country-heart of the Montana setting through dusky plains, small towns and dusty farmlands, Let Him Go’s visual style feels perfectly befitting of the darkened, uncomfortable themes that are presented.
With parallels to classic Western The Searchers, George and Margaret’s desperate hunt to find their grandson leads to a quietly gripping suspense thriller with enough poetic and emotional heart to make this slightly more interesting than your average cathartic revenge-thriller. With its early scenes depicting the relaxed rural charm of the family’s life prior to James’s death, Let Him Go, soon sees Margaret witnessing Donnie hitting Lorna and her son in the street. Their later disappearance prompts the core narrative pursuit aspect as George and Margaret set out to recover their grandson. This scene of abuse and Lane’s heartfelt response are enough to ensure we are emotionally invested in the journey at the heart of the film.
Director Thomas Bezucha makes a lot from the woozy Americana of the sixties setting as Margaret and George begin their journey through Montana to find their grandson. Doing so they delve further into danger upon encountering the Weboy family and their chain-smoking, abusive matriarch (in the form of scenery-chewing Lesley Manville).
Bezucha’s direction is tense and uncomfortable as the faux-niceties of the Weboy’s descend into aggressive threats encapsulated in scenes including a suspense-filled evening meal between the mismatched group and an attack on Margaret and George in their motel room. Delving into quite gruesome aesthetics, Let Him Go packs a gritty edge – with these scenes triggering the narrative to shift into an aggressively tense revenge-drama. Bezucha’s direction is sharp and suspenseful hooking us into our ageing heroes’ battle for their grandson.
Powered by the couple’s sense of grief and loss, not quite over the loss of their son, unable to face the reality of losing their only connection to him (in the form of their grandson), Let Him Go has a gentle emotive thread running through it – quietly reflected in the tremendous turns from Lane and Costner. Lane does much with the farm-living matriarch role bringing a restrained strength and conviction, whilst Costner’s man of few words act sells the gruff, yet heartfelt gravitas of former sheriff George. This emotional edge is heightened by Bezucha capturing a sense of mysticism in the western setting – the souls of horses and near-magical rural visuals pack a further elegance to dilute the pulpy revenge shocks.