Let Him Go Review
The vastness of America lends itself to stories of lost things. John Ford’s The Searchers has John Wayne as the cool and determined man with a chequered past, on a mission to retrieve a lost young woman from a vicious (albeit racially stereotyped) enemy. The genre is normally defined by these factors, a man versus a stronger enemy. He works alone. He’s normally bad tempered and driven almost entirely by his masculinity. This story has been told again and again, but almost always with a man in the lead, his tactics being violence, standing up with a gun and facing down the bad guys, coming away injured but victorious.
And then we have Let Him Go. Diane Lane is Margaret Blackledge, wife to retired sheriff George, played by Kevin Costner. After their son James (Ryan Bruce) is killed in an accident, his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and disappears into the night to join her new husband’s family many miles away, taking Margaret and George’s 3-year-old grandson, Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung) with them.
Margaret has lost everything. Her son and the grandson she dotes on. Combine this with hints that Donnie isn’t the kind of man he appears, and she feels all she can do find her ex daughter-in-law and grandson and bring them home to her farm.
Margaret and George both have signs of this original reluctant hero, but Margaret is the true heart of this story. Lane turns in an Oscar worthy performance as an older woman driven by motherhood to rescue the only connection she has to a lost son. On this odyssey she rediscovers her own strength, and a dogged determination that forces George to go along with her.
She is mirrored in Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville), a matriarch that reminds of The Godfather setting a table that reminds of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - her remote home and her four large sons an almost impossible barrier. While Margaret’s strength lies in patience and negotiation - her quiet determination - Blanche is driven by animalistic rage, and helped by her notorious reputation. Manville’s performance is terrifying and chilling, as she also tries to dig her claws into her new daughter-in-law, her only possibility of an ongoing legacy. The quiet but violent Donnie Weboy is joined by his unnerving brother Bill (Jeffrey Donovan) and brutes Marvin (Adam Stafford) and Elton (Connor Mackay). The steps they will take to carry out their mother’s wishes lead to moments of true horror.
Thomas Bezucha’s direction takes in the wide Midwestern landscape. Vast deserts and skies fill the screen, emphasizing how alone the Blackledge’s are in their search. The 1960s setting seems almost irrelevant, as they ride horses and take refuge with an indigenous young man named Peter (Booboo Stewart) in his remote cabin. This story could just as easily be set in the old west as the new, as Peter suffers the after-effects of persecution and colonialism. This is the only aspect that is perhaps under-developed, the effects of his hardships only being vaguely addressed.
Michael Giacchino’s score uses the versatility of strings to flow smoothly between moments of hope, despair and panic, perfectly complimenting Guy Godfree’s cinematography. Let Him Go is a film that belongs in the lexicon of great modern westerns, offering a modern feminist take on the lost child story that turns motives and actions on their heads, suggesting that maybe, strength lies in something other than a gun. And although a mother may know she needs to let go and drive away, she’ll always be looking in the rear view mirror.
Let Him Go is released in the UK on December 18.