A frustrating, illogical story overshadows strong performances and a great premise.

Based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Larry Watson, Let Him Go is about a retired sheriff and his wife who embark on a mission to find their only grandchild after their dead son’s widow remarries into a violent and disturbing family. Being a big Kevin Costner fan I was eager to see him reunited with Diane Lane (after 2013’s Man of Steel) and deliver that trademark Costner performance that never disappoints me.

Well, I got the performance I expected from the veteran actor – what a pity it was overshadowed by a frustrating story filled with implausible circumstances and forced conflict.

Set in Montana, 1963, retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) lose their son James (Ryan Bruce) in an accident. James leaves behind a wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter) and his newborn son Jimmy (Gram Hornung, Otto Hornung) who continue to live with George and Margaret for a few years until Lorna eventually remarries.

Not long after Lorna and her son move in with her new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), Margaret witnesses Donnie physically abuse Lorna and Jimmy in the street. Before Margaret can act on what she has witnessed, Lorna, Donnie and Jimmy abruptly move away without saying goodbye or leaving behind any contact information. Fearful for the safety of their only grandchild, Margaret and George set out to find where Donnie has taken Lorna and Jimmy with a hope of bringing Jimmy back to live with them.

Kevin Costner once again delivers a strong performance as retired sheriff, George Blackledge. It helps that he’s once again matched with Diane Lane, the two previously playing Superman’s adopted parents in Man of Steel. The two are perfectly cast together as their on screen chemistry and veteran acting chops helps create a believable marriage that has spanned decades.

Costner masterfully portrays a reserved man of few words who emanates an aura of hard life experience. His dialogue is minimal when compared to Lane, however he conveys so much in every scene without words and as the story progresses with the tension rising, you know there is a reserved, dangerousness to his character that is waiting to be unleashed when pushed too far.

My only gripe with Costner’s character has nothing to do with his performances, but more with how the story is written. There are numerous key scenes in Let Him Go such as when George and Margarat meet the Weboy family for the first time or when the Weboy family attack the Blackledges in their motel room where Costner’s believability goes right out the window, despite his fantastic performance.

It’s hard to believe an ex-lawman with over 30 years experience would behave in the way portrayed in those scenes and I quickly found myself analysing the plausibility of his character’s actions instead of enjoying the movie.

I found the same to be true of Diane Lane’s portrayal of Margaret who, just like George, is wonderfully set up at the start as a loving and caring grandparent mourning the loss of their child. Her anger at witnessing the violence towards her grandson and dead son’s widow as well as her drive to find them when they up and leave without a trace are understandable and relatable to the audience. Lane’s portrayal in the early part of the story is amazing but quickly starts to fall apart as the story advances.

Her character is unnaturally antagonistic to the Weboy family when they all meet for the first time. Both she and her husband realize something is off and there is an element of danger yet she continues to make matters worse for herself and her husband. One of the most glaring characteristics of her character that I didn’t buy is that her initial goal is to only retrieve her grandson. Surely as a mother she would realize that Lorna isn’t going to just let them take Jimmy.

The idea of also saving Lorna comes as a secondary thought which I find extremely implausible. Just like Costner, Lane’s performance quickly became less enjoyable as the film progresses due to a poor story. Essentially the fantastically believable characters we have at the start of the film are no longer believable by the time the credits roll.

Director Thomas Bezucha (Monte Carlo, The Family Stone), who also wrote the screenplay based on Larry Watson’s novel, has made a film where the first half is awesome and the second half is terrible. The first half sets the stage wonderfully and builds the tension at a nice steady pace where you know there’s going to be a dramatic payoff. With powerful human emotions driving our heroes into a dangerous place with dangerous people far from home, you can’t wait for them to clash with the villains.

Yet when our heroes meet the villains you realize the filmmakers were so focussed on creating conflict and shocking scenes they didn’t stop to think if these scenes made any logical sense. We quickly move from natural behaviour to unnatural behaviour and for the second half of the film I just kept asking why the characters were doing what they were doing. Why are the Blackledges being dicks to the Weboy family within seconds of meeting them? Why does Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville) care about holding onto Jimmy? He’s not related to her by blood. Why is George – a lawman of over 30 years and armed with a gun – unable to do what needs to be done when he and his wife’s lives are in obvious danger?

If George hadn’t been an ex-sheriff and Jimmy was actually the son of a Weboy and Lorna was actually the Blackledge’s daughter, then it may have worked. But it’s too late for a rewrite.

Let Him Go is a frustrating viewing experience because it starts off strong but falls apart in the second half, as if the writers never stopped to think if what was happening actually made any sense. I say “writers” because these flaws survived the translation from book to film, and that’s disappointing. While there are fantastic performances from the cast, these aren’t enough to make up for the painfully forced conflict trying more to shock the audience instead of telling a compelling story. If you want to see a great premise with a lot of potential ruined by a terrible script, this one’s for you.

  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Release Date: 11/06/2020
  • Distributor: Focus Features

Originally published on November 30, 2020 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/vod-reviews/let-him-go-2020/