Let Him Go is an adaptation of Larry Watson’s novel of the same name, and as we know, book adaptations don’t always translate well on screen. A recent example would be The Devil All the Time, which followed the book a bit too closely, resulting in an outcome that wasn’t as focused as it could have been. Let Him Go, on the other hand, is paced perfectly.
It starts on a lazy morning, everyone’s gathered in the kitchen for a spot of breakfast – there is a cosiness to this image, and we sense that the Blackledge family are a tight-knit bunch. There are some cracks though, mainly between Lorna (Kayli Carter) and Margaret (Diane Lane), in the sense that Lorna feels that nothing she does is ever good enough for Margaret Blackledge. Having lost her own family, her husband James’ (Ryan Bruce) family are the only living relations she has, yet there is a distance, a feeling that all they see is their son and grandchild Jimmy – there is no space for her.
When James dies from a freak accident, the cracks that existed before become chasms, and Lorna finds herself committing to marriage with Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret don’t exactly approve, but they say nothing as Lorna marries the man, feeling the emotional punch when they have to say goodbye to their grandson. While she is out shopping one day, Margaret discovers that their suspicions about Donnie are correct; he is no good for her grandson, and he is no good for Lorna. Things exacerbate when Lorna and Donnie pack up and disappear into the night, taking Jimmy with them, leaving no information or forwarding address.
Margaret feels that she has no choice but to find Jimmy and bring him back. The signs of grief are obvious here, and her inability to let Jimmy go because he is her one last connection to James. George rightly points out that they have no business meddling, especially since Jimmy is with his mother, but once Margaret makes her mind up, it is hard to change it, so the two set out on a road trip to find Jimmy, and bring him home. Along the way they run into Native American Peter (Booboo Stewart), who leads a lonely life, estranged from his own people, but also not quite belonging to the society he grew up in.
Costner and Lane are fantastic as George and Margaret. There is bickering affection there, and a familiarity that we feel in every little moment they are together on screen, be it in the car or while having dinner. It helps that Costner and Lane have played a married couple before, i.e the Kents, and this comfort with each other is blatantly apparent. There are also moments crackling with such intimacy that we almost feel like voyeurs, looking in on a moment we shouldn’t be privy to.
Costner is underrated as a romantic lead (watch The Bodyguard to see what I mean), and in Let Him Go, he plays the strong, steady man to a T. George was a sheriff before he retired, and this shows in the way he tackles problems and situations. Margaret is the opposite, a firecracker in every sense of the word, with an occupation of breaking horses before retiring because of James’ death.
There is a burgeoning sense of tension as they make their way towards the Weboys, and it escalates when they meet Bill (Jeffrey Donovan), who has a seething malice under his quick grins and fake laughter. He brings them to the Weboy estate to meet his sister Blanche (Lesley Manville), the matriarch of the family who rules with an iron fist. She is the kind of woman who makes an offer of pork chops sound more like a knife to the throat than any kind of hospitality. She has no plans to let Jimmy and Lorna out of her sight, and does not appreciate George and Margaret’s intrusion into their lives.
Every single interaction between the Weboys and the Blackledges is rife with tension, with violence threatening to spill over and conclude with the crimson stain of blood. There is so much volatility and no sense of how things might end, which is heart racing stuff – the credit goes to director Thomas Bezucha (he also wrote the screenplay), whose influence seeps through everything.
Let Him Go is a meditation on grief, loss and the ensuing loneliness. Some, like Lorna, are quick to move on because they want to escape their loneliness. Others, like Margaret, are unable to let go, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Grief and loss is an inescapable part of life – one needs to find a healthy middle, to move on only when ready, and eventually, find the strength to let that person go.
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Let Him Go boasts wonderful performances all across the board, with heart-racing tension laced into its second half. There is no respite offered from director Thomas Bezucha, as the film builds to a heart-stopping finish.
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