Not wishing to flog a dead horse – no pun intended – but westerns are still holding up even during these hard times of the pandemic. My last overview was of an overlooked and possibly underrated gem released during the theatre closures called NEWS OF THE WORLD(2021). A beautiful and picturesque tale of an unlikely pairing and a harsh travelogue in the Midwest, it found an audience to rave reviews.
Now comes another dusty western story called LET HIM GO (2021) with a completely different theme running through it. The story is set in Montana and concerns a retired sheriff and his wife dealing with loss and their attempts to deal with said loss and the extremes people will go to defy the fates. The results can be devastating.
Kevin Costner and Diane Lane star as a retired sheriff and his wife having their son’s family move in with them on the ranch. Nothing is really elaborated upon which suits the story just fine so that we may get to the meats and potatoes as they say. Due to a horrific accident that occurs to their son, the daughter remarries and decides to move to her new husband’s original hometown along with her infant son. The retired couple find this quick move not in everyone’s best interests and after an incident in the town, they decide to follow the couple to their hometown.
The resulting tale may seem and it’s eventual conclusion, old hat, but the beauty is in the delivery. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane star as the retired couple/grandparents George and Margaret Blackledge. Together they deliver this tale with both heartache and resolve that I doubt any other actors could have mustered up. It was without chance that they were paired yet again as a couple after being paired as a couple in 2 later SUPERMAN films and, for my money, were one of the highlights of those films. They had an easy give and take that plays off each other beautifully in LET HIM GO as the story flows through it’s inevitable course. Their relationship is what makes this film stand out from an atypical kidnap saga. Yet it isn’t a kidnap saga after all. This is what makes this film stand out. I have heard some say that it doesn’t know what it wants to be – a drama or an all out family vs. the enemy saga but it’s much more and the performances of both Diane Lane and Kevin Costner make this so much more special. There is one scene in particular where their characters meet up with the Weboy family whom their ex-daughter-in-law has married into and in one tense scene, Diane Lane is about to react yet Kevin Costner’s character with the slightest wink and look tells her to just let it go and it’s so beautifully depicted – blink and you’ll miss it. The nuances of an actor in mastery of his craft or two actors in mastery of knowing how to dovetail with each other? I’m still trying to figure it out and beautifully understated nonetheless.
Attention should also be paid to Booboo Stewart who plays Peter Dragswolf, a timid man-child who skirts the periphery of the story as the only sympathetic character that the Blackledge couple have helping him. He adds the only semblance of the Blackledge’s actually doing the right thing and not being completely out of their minds. He also helps in providing them some guidance to what this part of the West is like seeing as the Blackledge’s are completely out of their element.
Lesley Manville threatens to steal the whole movie out from under both principal actors with her role as Blanche Weboy. Her matriarch with the passive/hyper aggressive personality fuel the latter part of the movie when she psychologically comes head to head with Diane Lane’s character and this also drives the film to its fiery, fraught conclusion. Her self-assured attitude and self righteousness nature give the film its story arc to eventual redemption with nary a reaction nor gasp spared.
Many have complained that the first and second half of the story butt heads in how they are played out but I disagree wholeheartedly. There are so many curves and false starts that are thrown at us that keep the viewer wanting to watch until the end – none so much as the excellent work of Kevin Costner here and dare I say it? one of the best roles he has ever had in his career. As in my overview of NEWS OF THE WORLD, I’ve never had much love for both lead actor’s acting chops yet both Tom Hanks and Kevin Costner will come up in beautifully chosen roles that they completely invest themselves in. With Costner as George Blackledge, the forever dutifully husband to Diane Lane’s character, we see him question many of her decisions and suffers gravely for many of them, but in the film’s redemptive scene, he brilliantly breaks out of his dutifully constraints and takes matters into his own hands without her approval. If this isn’t a perfect marriage I don’t know what is and if this isn’t just brilliant understated acting I don’t know reviewing for the life of me either. The brilliance of this scene juxtaposed to the rest of the film is the irony that Kevin Costner’s character is a retired sheriff and acts like anything but.
Brilliant decision making by the filmmakers to quell the storm until it unleashes itself in all it’s hellaciousness and this I applaud Thomas Bezucha who only has four films to his credit which aren’t of any note yet brings a dutifully directing style to this and really knocks out a winner. Kevin Costner is responsible for DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990), OPEN RANGE (2003) –which deserves a larger audience and never really gotten enough of it’s due–, THE UPSIDE OF ANGER (2005), and MR. BROOKS (2007). These were all my favourite roles of his and not to be overlooked. Kudos to Kevin Costner and I’m eager to see what he does next.
Diane Lane to me is the less heralded acting twin of Meryl Streep and anchors this story beautifully with her interaction with her husband and also the character of Lesley Manville. Beautifully acted all around and the acting is what gives this film its passion.
Many things have been lost in our loss of innocence in our highly paranoid pandemic times including the loss of a regular work life, the warmth and company of family down to the attendance of the cinema going public. This is one of the films that got short shrift and should be given more of an opportunity to find a larger audience because it is that good. The dovetailing of both the first and second acts seemed to be from two opposing films is the only criticism I can level at it but all praise and glory need to be given to the actors, writers and director for keeping the viewer glued and completely wrapped up in this modern day tragic western tale.