Westerns and Kevin Costner have gone hand in hand for years. From the days of his Oscar winner Dances With Wolves, followed by Wyatt Earp and Open Range, he’s more recently brought the genre into the present day with TV’s Yellowstone. Now he’s back on the big screen in Let Him Go, still in those expansive Montana landscapes but this time in a story that actually owes more to a crime thriller than a cowboy flick.
Former sheriff George Blackledge (Costner) has given up the badge and runs a horse ranch with his wife Margaret (Diane Lane). Their son, his wife and their toddler, Jimmy, live with them and it’s a happy, secure family home, but that’s all shattered with their son dies in a riding accident. His parents are devastated and struggle to get over it, but daughter in law Lorna (Kayli Carter) seems to move on quickly, marrying Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). Her former in-laws try to put their reservations to one side, until Margaret witnesses an incident between Donnie and Jimmy that makes her fear for the little boy’s safety. And when she and George discover the couple has suddenly moved to Dakota to live with Donnie’s family, they set out to find them with one aim in mind – to rescue their grandson.
It’s Margaret who’s the driving force behind such a risky idea. As George reminds her in a moment of frustration, she “never knows when to give up” and rescuing Jimmy could mean separating the boy from his mother. With his background, George knows only too well how the law would regard that but, because he’s unfailingly loyal, he goes with her – and it’s just as well. As becomes increasingly clear, Donnie is one of a clutch of sons living with their domineering mother, Blanche (Lesley Manville) in a remote farmhouse and enjoying a highly dubious reputation among the locals. No place for a young woman and her toddler son, but Lorna’s new family aren’t about to let her, or her boy, out of their sights. Leaving isn’t on the agenda.
As soon as we meet the clan, we know we’ve been here before. Those similarities with David Michod’s Animal Kingdom ten years ago are there for everybody to see, especially when we meet Blanche, who follows Jacqui Weaver’s brassy style – bleach blonde, bright red lippie and nails. Lesley Manville is a fine actress and she’s never less than committed to the part, but it’s as if she’s walked in from another film, delivering an overpowering performance at odds with the lower key tone of menace that pervades the second half of the film. The bigger issue of child safety, which underlies the narrative, is thrown out of the window at the same time, sacrificed to the thriller plotline. There’s no room for doubt that the boy and his mother are in danger. Full stop. End of.
Costner and Lane make a sound partnership at the centre of the film, with small gestures and references pointing to the longevity and security of their relationship, despite their differences. And it’s because of their performances that we willingly follow them into the den of vipers, and feel alarmed on Lane’s behalf in the presence of slimy oldest brother, Bill (Jeffrey Donovan). But, despite the horses, cowboy boots and even solitary Native American, Peter Dragswolf (an engaging Booboo Stewart) and those panoramic vistas, this is still a thriller. A solid, well-acted one that has some effective moments of suspense, but which doesn’t quite hit the heights it aims for.
Thriller, Western | Cert: 15 | Universal | 18 December 2020 | Dir. Thomas Bezucha | Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Jeffrey Donovan, Kayli Carter.