Whew, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Western film, but add in Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, two absolute Hollywood gems who have been a couple before (in 2013’s Man of Steel), and I’m down. In fact, I saw the trailer for 2020’s Let Him Go it seems like a while ago now and it randomly popped him into my head, “I wanted to see that.”
I’m glad I finally watched it because wow. Stunning film in every way.
Based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Larry Watson, Costner plays retired sheriff, George, and Lane plays his wife, Margaret, who are looking for their grandchild after their son dies.
A short three years after the son dies in a horse accident, his widow re-marries to Donnie Weboy, which is unfortunate because the Weboy clan is cuckoo, as led by the matriarch, Blanche (played by Lesley Manville).
First, I love that this is set in 1960s Montana and North Dakota because it really adds to that “neo-Western” feel, as it’s called. The landscape shots from director Thomas Bezucha, who also did the screenplay adaptation, are beautiful. And he handles the camera with a deliberate, gentle hand that both leans into the darkness of the dialogue and the intensity of the violence.
That’s the thing. The best kind of movies have me holding my breath and keeping me tense purely through the power of its written and acted dialogue. Yes, there’s breath-taking violence in this as well, but it’s the dialogue that really had me riding up the wall. The kind of dialogue that makes you feel claustrophobic vicariously for the protagonists, George and Margaret.
Margaret witnessed Donnie, that coward, hitting both Jimmy and Lorna (the widow). Once Donnie flees with the family back to his Weboy clan, she wants to go and rescue Jimmy. George is more reluctant, but he goes along with her.
As the title indicates, Margaret has a hard time letting go of much in her life, whether it was Strawberry, her horse, her son, Jimmy and eventually, George, too.
Along their journey to rescue Jimmy, George and Margaret meet Peter (played by Booboo Stewart), the Americanized, white name given to a Native American. He’s living out in the middle of nowhere because the middle of nowhere is better than being back in Gladstone, North Dakota, reminded of what was taken from him: his heritage and identity. At only 8-years-old, he was ripped from his family and sent to “re-education” school to learn how to be a white American and so-called “civilized.” By the time he returned, he could no longer remember the Native American language of his grandmother.
That’s not fiction. That’s a real thing that happened in America between the early 19th and mid-20th centuries. I thought adding that layer of brutal history to this neo-Western film was a nice, difficult touch. And also plays into the “let [it] go” theme, wherein Peter has a hard time letting go of his heritage even if he’s already lost it. Plus, he makes for a character to help George and Margaret.
Speaking of them, when they aren’t dealing with the Weboys, we get a lot of beautiful tenderness between two fantastic Hollywood actors about old age and old love. They carry this film, obviously. But that’s not a slight against the script or direction; it’s more me saying they are the best of the best and elevate a good film to a great film.
In short, the Weboy clan are unabashed about their sleaziness and inherent violence. When George and Margaret convince Lorna to leave with Jimmy, the Weboy clan learns of it. They break into George and Margaret’s hotel room, where Blanche slaps Margaret after Margaret says she saw Donnie beating Lorna. In other words, Blanche is probably proud of Donnie for hitting his wife.
George valiantly tries to fight them off but he’s outnumbered. There are two Weboy boys in addition to Donnie, so we’re at three, plus Blanche and Donnie’s uncle. He still is able to get to his gun, but the numbers game catches up. To teach him a lesson, Blanche has Donnie use a hatchet to take the fingers off of George’s right hand and so he can’t shoot a gun again.
When at the hospital, a despicable sheriff comes, who is on the side of the Weboys, and sends the message that, “If you don’t leave now, we’ll give Jimmy an ‘accident.'” That is, kill him. Ugh.
On the way out of town, George and Margaret stop at Peter’s again, so George can rest. In perhaps the best moment of the film for Costner, Margaret cries into his arms, talking about how she’s lost them both, her son and Jimmy. It’s a rough scene. The camera zooms in on Costner’s stone cold stare. That’s when you know it’s going down!
He leaves in the middle of the night and goes back to the Weboy’s house. He creates a fire at an adjourning property as a diversion. He gets Lorna up and has her try to run out of the house with Jimmy and then wallops Donnie in the head with the butt of a shotgun.
The dang uncle intervenes on Lorna’s escape and tosses her down the stairs like a coward and then uses Jimmy as a human shield.
Blanche intervenes and accidentally shoots and kills the uncle. George drops Jimmy down to Lorna so they can escape. George gets shot by Blanche in the chest opposite his chest and wrestles with her. In the chaos, he’s able to shoot and kill the other two Weboy boys.
At that point, Margaret and Peter have arrived on a horse. As she’s helping George out of the house, freaking Blanche comes back and shoots George on the other side of the chest, killing him. Margaret wheels around and blasts Blanche to death with the shotgun. Thank God.
Margaret and Peter leave, watching as the entire house goes under with the blazing fire.
And I guess Donnie died in the fire while unconscious. Now, they don’t have to worry about the Weboys following them back home. My only sadness at the ending is not getting to see that gross sheriff get his.
Whew, what a movie. One of those films that takes its time building up the story, both the potent parts and the parts in between the lines and as lived through Costner and Lane. I could watch those two do anything.
If you’re looking for something that hits a little different, I highly, highly recommend this one.