From writer-director Thomas Bezucha, “Let Him Go” is a gripping new family drama about a couple’s journey to save their grandson from abuse and hardship.
Diane Lane and Kevin Costner reunite as an onscreen married couple in the stirring film from Focus Features, based on the 2013 novel by Larry Watson. They are not Superman’s parents this time; Margaret and George Blackledge’s son is just a regular decent man who dies suddenly, leaving behind a young wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter) and infant son, Jimmy.
“Let Him Go” centers on the consequences of Lorna’s decision three years later to marry an abusive husband. George and Margaret are determined to ensure three-year-old Jimmy knows he is safe and loved despite toxic, borderline barbaric new relatives led by matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville).
Bezucha zooms in on the grief of a well-meaning couple who have experienced profound loss and still somehow maintain their quiet toughness. Michael Giacchino’s score transforms from poignant to haunting when necessary, filling in the blanks between the sparse dialogue and complementing Guy Godfree’s stunning cinematography, as George and Margaret drop everything to travel and help their daughter-in-law and grandson.
Slow and deliberate, Bezucha takes his time telling its layered story, the same way the main characters would. They exude calm dignity despite slow-burning impatience – a desperation executed perfectly by veteran actors who say so much with so little.
But what is perhaps most moving about “Let Him Go” is its timeliness in November 2020, as coronavirus cases surge in the U.S. and the tumultuous presidential election dawns. We live in a time when the daily death of thousands of Americans has become numbing and “normal,” and the simple act of wearing masks to save lives has become a political pawn.
“Let Him Go” is an old-school movie, framed by classic actors playing strong people at a time when we all need strength. The story has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with decency, and the frustration that comes with feeling it slip from your grasp. Costner and Lane evoke salt-of-the-earth goodness, the John-and-Olivia-Walton essence of 1970s television, right down to their signature green truck and weathered stoicism.
But it’s the Weboys that echo the kind of faux “toughness” we see in certain voters this election season. An artificial, in-your-face kind of “strong” that is hollow beneath its violent, belligerent surface. Manville portrays this boorish insecurity expertly, a far cry from the dignified cancer patient she played in last year’s “Ordinary Love.”
Costner and Lane are especially impactful, capturing the feeling of powerlessness in the face of cruelty. The more the violent Weboys exert their control over Jimmy and Lorna’s lives, the more the Blackledges stand their ground, leading to an ugly division between the groups that feels all too familiar this year.
At a time when the health and safety of our loved ones is out of our control and being endangered by stubborn ignorance, George and Margaret are a comfort. To know we’re not alone in our sadness, anger, and all too often, helplessness. As the actions of others determine our well-being, “Let Him Go” might just be the movie we need to feel seen. It’s about character, and how kindness and common sense can be mistaken for weakness. The timing of its release feels like fate, showing how people of similar backgrounds can somehow have vastly different views on raising children and handling tension.
Bezucha and his gifted cast seamlessly show the difference between silent, gentle strength and loud, stubborn buffoonery. Between people who care, and people who don’t. People who live respectfully and fairly, and people who swing weapons and use gas-lighting to feel powerful, just because they can. The kind of people who call being rude and unreasonable being “opinionated,” or “telling it like it is.” The kind of people who need to win, and they don’t even know why — and they certainly don’t care who gets hurt along the way.
As half of the country grieves and the rest express a brutal, bitingly ignorant lack of empathy, this is a film about trying to say goodbye with grace. About trying your best to get through a situation that seems impossible. This couple’s approach to an unspeakably difficult time in their lives is more than just great cinema: it feels necessary, and cathartic.
A Western-style film evoking a different era, “Let Him Go” is as heartbreaking and frustrating as the year of its release – but it’s also about love, and the lengths we’ll go to protect it.
Focus Features will release “Let Him Go” in theaters Nov. 6.