Although Kevin Costner has played a wide variety of parts throughout his 40-year career, he is the rare modern-day actor to be defined by westerns. From Silverado to the Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves to Wyatt Earp to Open Range to the current TV series Yellowstone, he has returned to the genre over and over again. His steely demeanor and increasingly craggy face ensure that he is a good fit for the hard-scrabble stories told in those type of productions.
His new film, Let Him Go, is not exactly a western, but it has many of its trademarks. Costner plays George Blackledge, a retired sheriff living on a farm in Montana with his wife, Margaret (Diane Lane). After their son dies in an accident, they remain close with his widow, Lorna (Kayli Carter), and their grandson Jimmy for a few years until she marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain).
Margaret suspects Donnie isn’t good to Lorna and Jimmy, and when they move to another state unexpectedly, Margaret convinces George to go after them. They soon discover that Donnie’s meanness is just the tip of the iceberg in the Weboy family, led by icy matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville).
Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha and based on the novel by Larry Watson, the film contains only a few fleeting moments of happiness. The vast majority of the story is filled with at least undercurrents of sadness, if not outright tragedy. Viewers hardly have a chance to settle in before bad things start to happen, a decision that sets the tone but also robs the film of some of its narrative momentum.
The bumpy start proves somewhat fateful for the main part of the plot. While Margaret and George’s goal with their journey is understandable, things become murky once they actually arrive. The Weboy clan is meant to exude evil, and while they do on many occasions, it’s not a constant through line. This is especially true with Bill Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan), who seems only to be doing the bidding of Blanche.
Still, there’s no doubt what would be best for Lorna and Jimmy, and the film’s third act brings the two families into sharp relief. Strangely, it’s during this final section where the audience is finally given some real insight into George and Margaret’s relationship, helping Bezucha do an effective job at setting up the finale. The last-ditch effort still doesn’t make the ending as powerful as it could have been, but it makes it more than a dud.
Costner and Lane, teaming up again after playing Superman’s adoptive parents in Man of Steel, carry the film thanks to their chemistry. Each has a way of giving a subtle reaction to the other that indicates decades of history for their characters. Manville is a definite presence in her short time on screen, although her character is little more than one-note.
Let Him Go — a strange title, as it’s never clear who “him” is supposed to be — plays on Costner’s western history while also letting women take the lead for once. Its unrelentingly sad story may not be a balm for those looking for an escape, but the story delivers the good when it needs to.
Let Him Go opens exclusively in theaters on November 6.