REVIEW: Let Him Go [2020]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 114 minutes
    Release Date: November 6th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Focus Features
    Director(s): Thomas Bezucha
    Writer(s): Thomas Bezucha / Larry Watson (novel)

I’m sharing it now.

With three generations of Blackledge men at the center of Thomas Bezucha‘s Let Him Go (adapted from Larry Watson‘s novel) come three potential readings for the title. Is Margaret (Diane Lane) letting go of the memory of her late son James? Is she letting go of the hope she has to bring her grandson Jimmy back from the clutches of her widowed daughter-in-law’s (Kayli Carter‘s Lorna) abusive new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain)? Or is she meant to accept the fact that her husband (Kevin Costner‘s George) might not accompany her on her mission to retrieve the young boy by any means necessary from North Dakota? Margaret’s life is thus not without its fair share of tragic moments and heartbreaking loss. Yet her commitment to family never wavers.

She’s not the only mother being asked to let go, though. This is Montana in the 1960s after all. Mothers have watched their sons grow old, leave to start families of their own, head off to war without ever returning, and be ripped from their arms. The only reason Lorna could have met Donnie was his decision to fly the coop and leave his infamous family (Lesley Manville as his mother Blanche and Jeffrey Donovan as his uncle Bill) behind via geographical location if not escape the shadow of his upbringing with them. The only reason Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart) is roaming by the Blackledges’ car during their journey east is because he was forcibly taken from his reservation at eight years old for involuntary assimilation.

Bezucha’s film is therefore full of hardship drawn from the scars of America’s unforgiveable (and on-going) history. Add the ways in which the law bends to clans such as the Weboys and Lorna gets thrown in this mix too. She ostensibly becomes property to them—a lesson to be wielded by Blanche as the cornerstone of Donnie’s reinstated curriculum on what being a Weboy truly means. So when the Blackledges do find her (Lorna and Jimmy were absconded with during the night) and remind her she has someplace safe to turn, will she be willing to let her son go too? Will she have the strength to let his grandparents take him away even if Blanche kills her? Will anyone ever be able to hold anyone tight again?

The answer could be a resounding “No” by the end with tensions increasing the closer Margaret and George get to the Weboys’ backyard. It’s not like they’re just going across town to visit. The fact Donnie took Lorna and the boy without warning or forwarding address is enough to prove that any attempt to see them again will be labeled an act of aggression. Finding them therefore has less of a chance of bringing them home than it does earning the Blackledges two coffins. That’s why Blanche and Bill can smile upon meeting them. It’s why they can show their dominance without fear of retribution. It’s why George didn’t want Margaret to go at all let alone by herself. He knew it could only ignite trouble.

They go anyway, though, hopping in the car to commence their stoic trip across state lines with trepidation and a loaded gun. George’s ex-lawman holds his emotions close to the vest while Margaret’s unflinching optimism and determination mix to unwittingly create as many enemies as friends along the way. But just as gradual as their steps towards Jimmy unfold, so too does a much-needed thawing of their feelings for one another after having repressed their anguish from James’ death to be present for their grandson. It’s not until Lorna remarries that they’re finally alone to confront that grief and not until they’re driving to save what’s left of their family that they remember the value of love—especially when compared with the Weboys’ warped version of the same.

So even if Let Him Go concludes with the need to do exactly what its title suggests, there will be plenty of time to also do the opposite. Maybe it’s remembering the death of a horse and the care that went into reminding it of its best days. Maybe it’s giving Peter a reason to not feel as though he’s a man without a home despite what the authorities did to him and others his age. It could even be about showing up at Blanche’s door to prove to Lorna that they won’t simply abandon her to the nightmare she’s fallen into. That presence may even open Donnie’s eyes to the evil he once tried to actively elude. The Blackledges’ actions never cease providing hope as a result.

That’s a powerful thing in this type of abject darkness. Bezucha (and Watson by extension) aren’t averse to laying out just how bad things can get for good people nor how the actions of those good people can be the ones that spark the bad. It’s no coincidence that they show us the strain between Margaret and Lorna while James was still alive at the start. No matter how much love she might have shown Jimmy, the coldness she gave her daughter-in-law wasn’t going to do her any favors as far as Lorna seeking a way out from under their roof. The Blackledges are farm-living cowhands through and through. Their gruff, obstinate, and willful exteriors will always keep their warm hearts just out reach if they aren’t careful.

You can’t therefore cast them better than with Ma and Pa Kent. Costner is the consummate blank slate until he can’t help letting his voice crack when the situation becomes too much to bear and Lane is fantastic as the loving yet overbearing mother who’s quick to lob a biting retort with a smile when pushed too far. Their demeanors are perfectly at odds with the cartoonish theatrics unleashed by the scenery-chewing Manville and Donovan’s relish to imbue their antagonists with the sort of backwoods edge that got me craving a re-watch of “Justified”. This is western white hat versus black from start to finish, but also a bloody revenge thriller that’s unafraid of putting its heart front and center to guarantee the stakes aren’t suffered in vain.

[1] Kevin Costner (left) stars as “George Blackledge” and Diane Lane (right) stars as “Margaret Blackledge” in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Kimberly French / Focus Features
[2] Lesley Manville as Blanche Weboy in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features
[3] Kevin Costner (left) stars as “George Blackledge”, Diane Lane (right) stars as “Margaret Blackledge” and Jeffrey Donovan (middle) as “Bill Weboy” in director Thomas Bezucha’s LET HIM GO, a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.