4.5 out of 5 stars
Over the past few years, we have begun to see a new genre of films emerge called the neo-Western. Stories that find their roots in the wild West, but transplanted with contemporary themes. Taylor Sheridan has been at the forefront of this sub-genre with films like Hell or High Water, Wind River, and the Yellowstone television series. One actor who has managed to reinvent his career through this familiar, but fresh cinematic category is Kevin Costner.
The veteran actor and Academy Award-winning director continues in this narrative vein with his latest film, Let Him Go, partnering with his Man of Steel co-star, Diane Lane, for their latest journey to Montana's beautiful landscape. As the retired sheriff George Blackledge and his wife, Margaret, the couple takes us back to the early 1960s, where they live on a farm with their son and his family. James (Ryan Bruce) and Lorna (Kayli Carter) have just had their first child, Jimmy, and enjoy their lives on the family acreage when tragedy strikes. James is thrown from his horse and killed, leaving his bride and son in his parents' care.
Three years later, Lorna agrees to marry Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and the new family move into town. A marriage that proves to be a scary and heartbreaking experience for the young mother and her son. This dark side of their marriage is made apparent for Margaret after seeing Donnie abuse both Lorna and Jimmy on the streets of the small community. This disgraceful act prompts her to visit the young family to discover that they have moved back to his hometown in North Dakota to live with his clan, the Weboys. This revelation sets in motion the Blackledge’s plan to go after their grandson and to try to bring him back to Montana. With little planning or forethought, but a lot of determination, this task proves to be quite tricky once they meet Donnie’s kin. Especially when being introduced to the family’s matriarch, Blanche, who is played with vicious tenacity by Lesley Manville.
What becomes quite evident about this adaptation of Larry Watson’s novel is the chemistry between Lane and Costner. Rarely do you find a combination of actors who are so convincing in their on-screen relationship. This element makes this story even more compelling and immersive as the audience gets to know them and prays they can achieve their end goal of finding Jimmy and Lorna. This smouldering relational intensity delivered by the central characters helps to drive this slow-burning tale through to the catastrophic conclusion.
Their on-screen relationship is complemented by a genre that is defined by its subtle nuances. Here imagery is utilised over excessive dialogue to propel the story arch along. By capturing the little details and knowing glances from the performers, director Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone) manages to keep viewers engaged in the beautiful simplicity of their quest. Even by waiting to introduce the Weboys late in the story does not diminish the impact they have on this couple, but adds to the building tension throughout the North American road trip. It was a wise choice by the filmmaker, because to introduce Blanche Weboy too early may have proven to be too much for audiences to handle. Lesley Manville’s portrayal will go down as one of the best cinematic villains of the year, if not the decade.
The design of this genre and film is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for the sheriff to ride into town triumphantly, this film will leave you disappointed. Yet, Let Him Go does shine as one the best films of the year and shows how the Western is not dead; it merely has a new voice.
REEL DIALOGUE: Can hope come out of tragedy?
Let Him Go provides a parallel between Margaret Blacklege, letting go of her son James after his death and urging the Weboys to free her grandson from their horrific grasp. Two narratives that lead to violent and sacrificial elements that could not have been part of the initial plan when the couple set out from Montana.
Similar themes are part of the good news of the story of Jesus. The violence, the sacrifice, and salvation are all depicted in his life as it is portrayed in the pages of the Bible.
Jesus' story is one of tragic beginnings and a horrific end, but throughout the journey of his short time on earth, this tale of potential woe does offer hope to the world. His death is a symbol of promise for many and his life continues to provide overwhelming expectations of what is to be.
If you see your life as having little hope or joy, it may be a good time to check out the story of Jesus. He offers people something unique in this life that goes far beyond the pages of Larry Watson’s novel and Montana's beautiful landscapes. One that lasts into eternity.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die - John 11:25