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Let Him Go
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Furies"
3 stars

Although “Let Him Go” clearly aspires to be a modern-day Western—the kind where people ride in on pick-up trucks and station wagons instead of horses (though they can be deployed in a pinch when available)—it is a film that plays more like a bizarre mash-up of a typical Lifetime movie melodrama and those later “Death Wish” sequels where Charles Bronson continued to wreak bloody havoc on those who crossed him despite being well past retirement age. The difference is that those movies at least had no illusions that they were anything other than one-dimensional potboilers while “Let Him Go” is constantly laboring under the impression that it is saying or doing something of artistic significance even as it is constantly serving up the same hackneyed goods.

Beginning in 1961, the film stars Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as George and Margaret Blackledge, a retired couple living on their Montana farm with their son, James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their infant son Jimmy until tragedy strikes and James is killed in an accident. After a little bit of time passes, Lorna marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and moves out. Before long, Margaret’s suspicions are confirmed when she sees Donnie smacking Lorna around in the street but by the time she and George arrive at their apartment to confront them, they have skipped town and taken Jimmy with them. Margaret is determined to find them and bring Jimmy back home by any means necessary and the more measured George, a former lawman who knows full well that they have no legal claim to the child, goes along for the ride.

They finally track Donnie and Lorna to North Dakota, where they are now living in a remote compound in which her and his other brothers live under the iron hand of their domineering mother, Blanche (Lesley Manville). George and Margaret’s first meeting with the Weboy clan does not go especially well and when they try to convince Lorna to take Jimmy and sneak away with them, things escalate violently. With no other choice at hand—the Weboys apparently rule the area with an iron fist for reasons never made entirely clear—George and Margaret, with the aid of a young Indian (Booboo Stewart) who is living off the grid nearby, mount an old-fashioned siege on the Weboy compound in order to rescue Jimmy and Lorna and kill any Weboy who gets in their way.

“Let Him Go” is essentially two movies in one and my basic problem with it is that I vastly preferred one of them to the other. The first film is a spare and agonizing drama about a couple still reeling from the loss of one child and now determined to prevent that from happening a second time even though the law is against them in this regard. Is it shameless and melodramatic? Of course, but on some very basic fundamental level, it sort of works, thanks in large part to the convincing performances by Lane and Costner. However, once Margaret and George track down the Weboys and are taken by son Bill (Jeffrey Donovan), that air of realism quickly vanishes and is replaced by a more stylized take in which the Weboys seem to know that they are the unredeemable villains in an old Western and act accordingly. This is especially evident in regards to Blanche, who comes across as a more psychotic version of the tough-as-nails women that the Barbara Stanwyck played in the later part of her career in such Westerns as “Forty Guns” and “The Furies.” Fine, except that the usually brilliant Manville goes so over-the-top with her Stanwyck impersonation that she comes across as more ridiculous than malevolent—not exactly the mood a film necessarily wants to invoke with their lead villain.

The other problem that arrives at this point is the way that the film shifts from being a quiet character piece into a violent revenge thriller, a move that is abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying. Mind you, I do not necessarily object to the shift in approach in theory, only in execution. The film just begins to get coarse and dumb at this point and is more concerned with getting a rise out of the audience with the increased levels of brutality than in dealing with the human drama that had been its focus up to that point. Hell, even that might have still worked on some level if the violence had been depicted in a stylish and cinematically exciting manner. As it turns out, if you are planning to make a film in which the latter half is dependent on a series of violent events culminating in a brutal siege in which people are slaughtered in any number of ways, perhaps you should not bank on the likes of writer-director Thomas Bezucha, the auteur of “The Family Stone” and “Monte Carlo,” to tap into his inner Peckinpah. These scenes are competent enough on a technical level, to be sure, but they are done in such a workmanlike manner that there is ultimately nothing to them that will shake viewers in any meaningful way. Instead, most of them will probably find themselves contemplating how the movie has been seemingly setting up a potentially interesting and subversive twist for the final siege but then chickens out on it at the last second.

Look, there are far worse movies out there than “Let Him Go” and there are some good things about it in the early going, chiefly the performances from Lane and Costner. However, because of the way that it squanders all the goodwill it develops in the early going by transforming into a drearily familiar thriller, it proves to be an especially frustrating one. After watching it, I couldn’t help but think of “In the Bedroom,” another film that dealt with grieving parents, loss and revenge but did so in a way that never became subsumed in cliches. Maybe that was the kind of film that Lane and Costner were thinking of when they signed on for this one. Too bad for them, and for viewers, that they wound up with one not nearly as ambitious and certainly not nearly as good.

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originally posted: 11/06/20 09:47:52
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  06-Nov-2020 (R)
  DVD: 02-Feb-2021


  DVD: 02-Feb-2021

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