After a family tragedy for the Blackledge family, grandparents George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret (Diane Lane) are left to bring up baby Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung) with mother/daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter). But a few years later, Lorna marries bad-un Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and disappears back to Donnie's hillbilly extended family in the wilds of North Dakota, led by the fearsome Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville). Fearing for the child's wellbeing, Margaret drags retired Sheriff George on a dangerous journey to rescue the child.
There are strong similarities in this story with a sub-plot of the excellent "Ozark", where the psychopathic Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) is intent on having a child to grow up with on her remote ranch. The sense of tension there is recreated here, exacerbated by the movie's extremely slow (read "glacial") pace in its early stages. It's the same sort of rising dread that I felt with "Nocturnal Animals". This reaches its peak at a tense standoff over lamb chops at the Weboy ranch, but we are probably half-way into the film by then.
The slow pace however is broken by a couple of extremely violent scenes that earn the movie its UK-15 certificate. One (no spoilers here!) harks back to another Kevin Costner blockbuster where he was a bit luckier! And the finale turns a slightly sleepy tale of "two old folks" into an 'all guns blazing' action western that's highly unexpected. Although you could argue that this is tonally extremely uneven, it works and makes the movie a lot more memorable than it otherwise would be.
The standout leading performance here is the one from Diane Lane as the mentally tortured Granny pursuing her convictions across the country. Here writer/director Thomas Bezucha gives the character full rein. It's a memorable 'strong female' part, that would have been dominated by the male lead in the writing of films a few years back. Lane delivers a dramatic and rock-solid performance that has Oscar nomination written all over it.
I'm also a big fan of Kevin Costner, not just because he's a solid and reliable actor over many years. I always remember him gamely appearing as "The Postman"/'propeller-guy' in Billy Crystal's hilarious montage opening for the 70th Academy Awards. Anyhow, here he has his meatiest dramatic role in many years, and delivers fully on it. Top job, although I suspect this may not be his year for his elusive Best Actor award.
Finally, rounding out the Oscar hopefuls is the brilliant Lesley Manville as Blanche Weboy. It's a dream of a role for the Brighton-born star, nominated of course for the Best Supporting Actress two years ago for "Phantom Thread". And she is genuinely chilling here, firing on all cylinders like some sort of deranged Bette Davis on speed. She's used sparingly in the movie, but that makes her scenes all the more memorable. Another nomination perhaps? I'd predict so, yes.
I found this to be an uncomfortable watch, since I found myself in a moral quandary with the storyline. It's clear that Margaret is genuinely concerned for the safety of Jimmy (and less so, Lorna). Yet, what she is ultimately prepared to do is consider child abduction, when the law if probably on the side of the other party. Sure, the lifestyle and attitudes of the Weboys are alien to this more traditional "Granny". But although Blanche rules with a Victorian-level of grit, isn't she - at least before any of her more vicious tendencies emerge - entitled to do that? The film firmly roots itself behind the Blackledge's as "the good guys", but the script cleverly has you questioning that at various points,
Two technical categories in "Let Him Go" are also worthy of note. The cinematography is by Guy Godfree, and the sweeping vistas of Montana and North Dakota (actually Alberta in Canada!) are gloriously delivered. And the music by Michael Giacchino - one of my favourite composers - is cello-heavy and fitting for the sombre storyline. I always assess the quality of a score by whether I annoy the cinema cleaners by sitting until the last of the end credits have rolled, and this is one I did that to.
As the last movie I see before Christmas, "Let Him Go" is not exactly a feelgood festive offering. It's a well-crafted and thoughtful story, but not one to make you feel good inside, for the reasons outlined above. If you are a movie-lover though, then it's an interesting watch, if only for the fine acting performances on offer.
(For the full graphical review, please check out "Bob the Movie Man" on the web. Thanks.)
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