With COVID-19 cases spiking around the country and more films postponing their release dates, it looks as if we won’t be getting any major releases for the rest of 2020. With that being the case, if movie theaters decide to stay open and show films throughout the winter wave of the virus, there’s going to be a lot of movies that would normally be lost that can find their shine. A smaller film like “Let Him Go” is a perfect example of a film that could have lost its shine if it had not made its way to the theatres. The premise is simple; Margaret (Diane Lane) and George (Kevin Costner) Blackledge try to get their grandson back from a dangerous family that their daughter-in-law married into. What follows is a slow, but engaging story, with two excellent lead performances.
The main selling point for this movie is by far Diane Lane’s excellent performance. She encompasses such a wide range of emotions–shock, grief and overwhelming joy–making her absolutely magnetic. She’s also given the most amount of screen time and the strongest motivation in the film, which is a huge plus for one of the best actors working today. The plot is entirely structured around her choices and decisions, which also allows for a lot of the film’s darker, shocking moments to be directed at her. Lane is given a substantial amount of work here and it’s all rooted in how much her character has been through in the past, as well as what she endures throughout the events of the film.
Branching off of that point, there is such a rich history between Margaret and George that is explored throughout the story, giving so much more thematic context to their actions. A movie like this, especially since the first major showdown doesn’t occur until about 45 minutes in, can suffer from pacing issues if there isn’t enough going on in between big scenes. Fortunately, “Let Him Go” has no problem with pacing because of how fleshed out and fully realized the couple is. Lane and Costner give so much life to Margaret and George, they feel like an actual married couple with a past and a laundry list of tragedies they’ve had to endure. This aspect of the film was what really kept me invested throughout the narrative.
The film also pulls very few punches in regard to putting the characters through hell. There are several scenes that ended with my heart in my stomach and my jaw on the ground. There are gut-wrenchingly tense scenes that lead to brutal violence being acted upon the lead characters, putting a pit in my stomach. It also creates a hatred for the main villain, Blanche Weboy (Leslie Manville), who is also excellent and earns her disdain from the audience with the evil she commits. The film can be frustrating to watch because its middle portion is really just two characters that you’ve grown to love getting the wind knocked out of them. While frustrating, it is extremely effective in its presentation.
As for flaws, the one thing that aggravated me about this film is how infrequently the choices that Margaret makes are justified by her character. The narrative makes her choices work depending on what the story needs at a given moment, but it often feels like her choices don’t have enough time to be discussed with George, who she essentially guilts into joining her on the journey. While Margaret makes the decisions and drives the narrative forward, the viewer often doesn’t know why, until the decision is made.
The film’s structure is also a little bit off, in terms of where certain events happen across the narrative. The film is only one hour and 54 minutes long, but it felt a lot longer due to the amount of time spent on character development for Margaret and George at the beginning. I think an excellent job is done with how real the leads feel, but it seems rather unbalanced when looking at the narrative as a whole. The real story, or inciting incident, doesn’t happen until almost halfway through. This made it feel, at times, like I was watching two different movies–a drama about an older couple coping with loss and a revenge film about getting their grandson back. Some of that exposition in the beginning could have easily been transferred to the second act to allow the plot to develop a little faster.
Nonetheless, I think “Let Him Go” is solid enough to warrant a recommendation. Obviously, don’t go see it now in a theater, given the current challenges with COVID-19, but if you’re browsing Netflix one night and “Let Him Go” pops up, maybe give it a watch!