‘Let Him Go’ Tweaks Genre Expectations
Larry Watson’s novel arrives onscreen with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane in leads
Friday, November 6, 2020
"Johnny Guitar" (1954)
"No Country for Old Men" (2007)
"Animal Kingdom" (2010)
"The Keeping Room" (2014)
If you watch superhero films at all you might do a double take at the casting of Costner and Lane because they played Ma and Pa Kent in "Man of Steel." They are once again playing a married couple in their twilight years but this time it's Margaret (pretty close to Martha) and George Blackledge.
The film has a clunky start because we know exactly what is going to happen. The Blackledge's son James is painted in such perfect, rosy hues that we know he is doomed (not a spoiler since it is revealed in the trailer). His wife Lorna seems dissatisfied with life on his parents' ranch and there's obvious tension between her and Margaret. The irony is that this is not how the book opens. The book cuts to the chase and avoids all this plodding exposition by beginning with Margaret packing up the truck in order to head out after her grandson, who has been whisked away by Lorna's new husband.
Perhaps writer-director Thomas Bezucha thought this sappy open would mislead audiences about the direction the film takes. It begins with grief and loss but then switches gears to become a kind of modern Western revenge tale as the Blackledges realize that Lorna's new in-laws are an off-the-grid family ruled by a brutal matriarch named Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville in a steely and riveting performance that recalls Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom"). Even the family name implies how Blanche keeps her full grown sons as wee little boys afraid to grow up.
Superficially, "Let Him Go" has the trappings of a Western revenge tale in terms of its setting and characters. But what makes it more interesting is that instead of focusing on male characters it focuses on women, specifically mothers and the different ways that love drives them. Margaret is warm and protective of her son and devotes herself to her grandchild but without realizing how that love plays out for Lorna. Blanche loves her boys but controls them with fear and violence. Both women are determined to get their way, Margaret tries to be polite but Blanche could care less about appearances and niceties.
The film’s absolute best scenes involve the confrontations between Lane’s Margaret and Manville’s Blanche. They give the film its formidable backbone and chief interest.
When the film takes us to the Weboy homestead there is a palpable sense of dread and menace as Blanche emerges from the darkness to greet the Blackledges. The men remain predominantly silent as the women run the discussion and drive the action. This scene and another in a hotel room are absolutely riveting and display a tone different from the rest of the film.
These two women give the film its formidable backbone and chief interest. Sadly the rest of the film isn’t quite as compelling or as fully realized. It’s rare to see women dominate a western and this one is worth checking if only for those two remarkable scenes. But almost everything else feels rather pedestrian in how it plays out whether it's a token Native American thrown in as a plot device or the maudlin way the death of Margaret's horse foreshadows events.
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