Review: Kevin Costner and Diane Lane's throwback 'Let Him Go' is more strange than serious

Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic

What an odd movie “Let Him Go” is.

Based on a novel by Larry Watson, it’s a throwback slow-burn thriller and an over-the-top scenery-chewing buffet – sometimes in the same scene. The back-and-forth tone prevents it from being the serious examination of human behavior (and misbehavior) it believes itself to be. It makes the experience of watching more strange than immersive.

Writer/director Thomas Bezucha’s film (★★★½ out of five; rated R; in select theaters Friday) stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, along with terrific character actors like Lesley Manville and Jeffrey Donovan.

But it’s lesser-known actors like Kayli Carter and Booboo Stewart who really shine, making the most of smaller, quieter roles.

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Costner and Lane play George and Margaret Blackledge, living on a Montana ranch in 1963 (though in spirit, it seems more like 1953). He’s a retired sheriff, the strong, silent type. She is more outgoing, forceful. Their son James (Ryan Bruce) dies early in the film, and his widow, Lorna (Carter), marries a sketchy man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). They move with James and Lorna’s young son, Jimmy (played by Otto and Bram Hornung), to town.

One day Margaret, watching from a distance, sees Donnie hit both her grandson and Lorna. Before she and George can do anything, Donnie steals away with his wife and stepson in the middle of the night, lighting out for North Dakota where his close-knit, dangerous family lives.

It’s too much for Margaret, who decides she will bring Jimmy home. George, laconic as ever, doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but he goes along with the plan, such as it is. Along the way, they meet Peter Dragswolf (Stewart), a young Native American man whose sweet nature and expert knowledge of the land will prove valuable – predictable as all get out, but Stewart is such a calming and welcoming presence, you are happy to see more of him.

The Weboy family is one of those bands of gothic creeps who are just a little too close for comfort, and lash out when they feel slighted or threatened, which is pretty much whenever they are awake. Bill (Donovan), Donnie’s uncle, is the first Weboy family member George and Margaret meet in North Dakota, and he seems like a reasonably regular fellow – almost. He insists that they have dinner at the Weboy compound, which is even farther out in the middle of nowhere.

What could go wrong?

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Blanche Weboy (Manville), the clan’s matriarch, calls all the shots in the family, and seemingly in the town and surrounding areas. She’s not going to give up Jimmy easily.

Manville’s performance is as subtle as a piano dropping on your head. She’s a terrific actor, and this was probably a fun role; she’s certainly playing it for all its worth. But at times she’s almost comical.

It’s an intriguing film – you certainly root for George and Margaret. But most of the characters are archetypes. They’re just a notch or two too much. Lane, for instance, plays Margaret as headstrong and willful, which is what the character calls for, but there’s never a surprise in her performance. Bezucha telegraphs the emotions.

Costner, for his part, mostly stands there looking kind of forlorn. You certainly can’t call it overacting.

For all that, Guy Godfree’s cinematography is gorgeous (the film was actually shot in Alberta, Canada), the vast expanses emphasizing the leave-us-alone attitude of the people who inhabit it. Carter’s performance is right in line with that – her Lorna never got along with Margaret. She suffers silently, so when she finally stands up to Margaret, it means something. “Let Him Go” is a good thriller, but it would have benefitted from more moments like that.