Thomas Bezucha’s latest film Let Him Go wears the mask of a revenge tale, but underneath is an intriguing tale about loss and grief. Life has not been the same for Montana couple George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret (Diane Lane) Blackledge since their son James (Ryan Bruce) died in an unexpected riding accident. Years later their once lively ranch, where they use to break in horses and helped raise their grandson, feels empty now that James’ widowed wife Lorna (Kayli Carter), has decided to remarry Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). While little is known about Donnie’s past, Margaret begins to question his character when she witnesses Donnie hitting both her grandson Jimmy (played by Otto and Bram Hornung) and Lorna while out shopping one day.
Margaret’s suspicions are further heightened when she goes to visit Lorna and Jimmy only to discover that the family has abruptly moved without warning. Learning that they have gone to live with Donnie’s mother, Blanche (Lesley Manville) in North Dakota, Margaret convinces George to take a road trip to make sure their grandchild is okay. However, as the pair quickly discover, one does not simply stroll up to the steps of the Weboy clan without them knowing in advance.
Living off the grid, and with a tight grip on everyone in the community, the Weboy family is not one to be messed with. While Margaret may have visions of taking Jimmy back home with them, the Weboys have no intention of letting him go without a fight. Forcing George and Margaret to contemplate how much they are willing to sacrifice in the name of family.
A genre spanning work, the bulk of Bezucha’s film plays like a contemporary western. As the Blackledges embark on their journey, the vastness of the American landscape becomes more prominent. It engulfs them in a way that makes their trusty station wagon feel small in comparison. This allows the film to subtly convey just how out of their depth they really are. Like travelers in an old western, The Searchers clearly feels like one of the film’s many inspirations, they are not prepared for the danger that awaits them.
Let Him Go does an excellent job of building and sustaining the sense of dread. Much of this is due to the chilling performances that Lesley Manville gives as the ruthless mob boss style matriarch. While each of the Weboys have their own sinister quirks, take Jeffrey Donavan’s lecherous but frequently smiling Bill for example, it is Blanche who is truly evil incarnate. Her faux generosity, allowing the Blackledges to break bread at her dinner table, and biting tongue allows Bezucha’s film to easily delve in and out of the realm of horror.
While the Weboys are a menacing force that pull those around them into the eye of their tornado, Bezucha struggles with how to adequately resolve the film’s two distinct narrative strands. On one side you have a chilling thriller that is about to boil over, and on the other you have captivating examination of loss and connection. It is in the later, where George and Margaret slowly reveal both their various stages of grief and what they fill the painful void with, that Lane and Costner truly shine. Not only does their grief resonate, but one becomes aware of how it is blinding them, especially Margaret, to the dire extent of their current situation.
As things escalate to the point of no return, Let Him Go’s final act never seems to match the level of everything that comes before it. Bezucha asks viewers to suspend their level of disbelief as retribution is sought, however, the film’s transition to straight action never feels as plausible as the film wants the audience to believe. The final set piece nearly derails the more nuanced moments, take the discussion that George and Margaret have with new friend Peter (Booboo Stewart) about the devastating impact of residential schools on the indigenous community, that the film works hard to build.
Although the film may not wrap up in a truly satisfying fashion, Let Him Go is still a tense and fascinating meditation on grief, loss and sacrifice.
Bonus Features: The Making of Let Him Go, The Blackledges: Kevin Costner & Diane Lane, Lighting the Way: Thomas Bezucha.