Even in the Before Times, it was nearly impossible to see every film that was released in a given year. You can certainly try, but there’re bound to be a few that you miss either by choice or circumstance. This being the case, quite a few might fit into the “wished I’d seen it the first go-round” category and writer/director Thomas Bezucha’s Let Him Go perfectly fits right into that slot. A slow tale exploring love and loss, this adaptation from author Larry Watson’s same-titled book is aptly described by Bezucha as a Greek tragedy in the “Making Of” featurette included in the home release. There is pain, there is trial, there is loss, but there is also a bittersweet hope and nobility present that makes all it imbued with purpose. It certainly helps that the cast is top notch, enabling the audience to look beyond who they are as people and envision them as Bezucha intends. In its totality, Let Him Go is many things: a crime thriller, a gothic western, a love story, and a family drama. Above all, it’s a story about the various stages of grief and the difficulty of letting go.
Retired lawman George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) share their home with their son James (Ryan Bruce), daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter), and grandson Jimmy. That is, until the unexpected happens, splitting the families in two when James dies in a riding accident and, a few years later, Lorna remarries. Having Lorna and Jimmy living elsewhere was bad enough for Margaret, but when she, first, sees new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) physically abuse both Jimmy and Lorna, and, second, the new family leaves town without a word, Margaret decides she’s going to get her grandson back. Unwilling to let her go alone, George accompanies Margaret on her quest, the two journeying from town to town looking for clues to the whereabouts of Lorna and Jimmy. What they don’t expect is that the cruelty Margaret witnessed in Donnie did not originate in him.
Coming into Let Him Go, I expected it to be a fairly straight, though prolonged, story of familial reconciliation after tragedy. Given the description above, and with the cast involved, a certain amount of heroics and happy endings are anticipated. This is, of course, the folly of anyone who comes to, well, anything with preconceived notions. Instead of experiencing the thing, we find ourselves waiting for a thing and that can detract from the act of watching. So, truly, leave your expectations at the door with Let Him Go and you’ll “enjoy” this film all the more. “Enjoy” being in quotes as Let Him Go isn’t a confection in the vein of Tombstone (1993) or Maverick (1994). Actions have consequences and those consequences have weight. Wisely, Bezucha allows the story to take its time to get to where it needs to be, enabling the audience to identify and feel the ramifications. For some, this may appear as tedium or as though the film wanders from Point A to Point B. To those, I implore you to consider the physical restrictions (the film is set in the 1960s) and the psychological restrictions (the loss of a child). The physical restrictions remove the speed of information, requiring the characters stop, question, and explore in a variety of places. Each one serves to enhance the color of world the Blackledges exist within, pointing out the violence of a land anyone else might expect to be safe traveling in. The second, well, no one can pin-point what constitutes “loss” for another or how to process it. The fact that the film takes its time to explore this makes the end of the tale far more impactful than if the narrative rushed the audience to that point.
Impressively, Bezucha lets the character drive everything that happens and his playful use of time are both insightful nuggets into the Blackledges as well as hidden setups for the future. How’s this work? In one flashback, the audience watches as George, Margaret, and adolescent James deal with putting down one of their horses. The audience presumes Margaret’s love of James based on her reaction to any mention or connection to her son, but this is an opportunity to really see how she behaves with him. In this moment of sadness, she comforts him and protects him. Simultaneously, this moment is juxtaposed against a scene wherein the head of the Weboy family, Blanche (an unnerving performance from Lesley Manville (Netflix’s The Crown)), forces Donnie to commit violence. She phrases it something like “You’ve got to teach them to teach others.” Here, the flashback not only serves to undercut the difference in parenting, but also how similar the two matriarchs are. Both love their sons, but one leads with the stick versus the other with the carrot. The script wants to make it clear as concretely as possible that the Weboys are the bad guys in the tale, not just in terms of their opposition to Margaret’s desires but as creatures of violence, and these flashbacks help cement that notion when paired with the present. So much of the film is like this — conversations, moments, simple interactions — that the expectation of action will absolutely destroy any chance of enjoyment. If, however, you open yourself to Bezucha’s patience, Let Him Go becomes a powerful and emotional dramatic piece.
As far as home releases go, the bonus materials are minimal, but not unsubstantial. Through three featurettes, the audience will explore the making of the film, lead actor Costner and Lane’s thoughts on the film, and Bezucha’s own perspective over the course of a total 14 minutes. It’s not much, but it certainly enables the audience a better understanding of what drew everyone to the project. In the featurette “Lighting the Way: Thomas Bezucha,” director Thomas Bezucha discusses how coming across author Larry Watson’s earlier novel “Montana 1948” entranced him, so that when he saw “Let Him Go” on the shelves, he knew he needed to read it. Actors Costner, Lane, and Manville offer their own takes on what drew them to the project, as well as producer Paula Mazur. This featurette is, the briefest and the lightest on details. In the middle is “The Blackledges: Kevin Costner & Diane Lane” at just over four minutes, where the actors discuss a bit about what intrigued them to sign onto the project. Incidentally, this is where some might learn that Costner himself is attached as an executive producer on the film. Of note, Lane mentions how she hoped that Costner would sign on to the project to play George and Costner admits that Lane is the reason he agreed to the part. If you’re of the mind that this set of actors were fantastic in Man of Steel (2013) as Jonathan and Martha Kent but you didn’t get enough of them, then Let Him Go will certainly scratch that particular itch as these two have incredible on-screen chemistry. Their timing with dialogue and physical reaction makes it seem like they’ve been working together forever, versus only the two projects. Frankly, I’d enjoy more projects where the two are paired together as friends or foes, just to see them play off of one another. In the longest featurette, “The Making of”, duration of just over six minutes, the real goodies about the film are laid bare. It’s not just the cast, director, and producer Paula Mazur who get to speak, but there’s some discussion from cinematographer Guy Godfree (Buffaloed) about his approach to capturing the look the of the film. Notable in this segment is Guy’s appreciation for Trevor Smith’s (Wynonna Earp) production design, which he calls out specifically and discusses. In particular in this segment, there’s acknowledgement of the little details throughout Let Him Go that helped to create the world of the story. Specifically, the featurette shows a brief sequence when the Blackledges speak with Will Hochman’s Tucker, a cousin to the Weboys and the first real inkling of what that family is capable of. It’s only the quickest of flashes of the vertical scar that runs along his neck by his ear and, understandably, may be missed by the audience in the sequence. It’s not mentioned in the scene, before or after, but it’s a chilling harbinger of what’s to come.
While Let Him Go certainly is not a film which required the big screen experience, as 2020 sent so many studios scrambling to figure out whether to release (and how) or to delay, Let Him Go mostly came and went without much fanfare. According to Rotten Tomatoes, both the audience and critics score are high, implying that the film, generally speaking, is well-received by those who watch it. Personally, I was moved to tears more than once, partially because our household has just welcomed a new addition, the second of two, but also because of the delicate nature in which Bezucha captures the Blackledges’s unbearable grief. Loss comes to us all, but it’s how we treat the living and honor the lost that truly matters. When we learn to let go without forgetting, then healing can begin.
Available on January 19th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD February 2nd, 2021.
Let Him Go Special Features
- The Making of Let Him Go (6:24) – Take a deeper look at the emotional journey the Blackledges embark on, the period specific production design, and Director/Writer Thomas Bezucha’s inspiration in adapting the novel for screen.
- The Blackledges: Kevin Costner & Diane Lane (4:15) – Stars Diane Lane and Kevin Costner share personal insights into their characters and why finally having the chance to work together was an opportunity neither party could pass up.
- Lighting the Way: Thomas Bezucha (3:15) – Director/Writer Thomas Bezucha shares his process in developing the story while the cast and crew discuss what makes him the perfect person to bring this film to life.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.