In August of 1979, when Diane Lane was just 14 years old and making her film debut in “A Little Romance,” she was on the cover of Time magazine and Sir Laurence Olivier was touting her as the next Grace Kelly. Lane’s star continued to rise after back-to-back roles in Francis Ford Coppola’s teen-cool classics “The Outsiders” (1982) and “Rumble Fish” (1983).
Though there have been some dry patches, to the point where Lane considered giving up acting, she has built an impressive resume over the last four decades, with films such as “A Walk on the Moon” (1999), an Oscar-nominated turn in “Unfaithful” (2002), “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003), the final season of “House of Cards” and “Man of Steel” (2013), playing Martha Kent opposite Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent. In 2012, Lane returned to the stage for the first time in more than 20 years to star in “Sweet Bird of Youth” at the Goodman Theatre, which she called “quite a highlight of life” in our recent Zoom conversation. “It was quite the challenge, and quite the honor.”
Lane and Costner are paired again in the Great Plains drama/thriller “Let Him Go” (in theaters Thursday), but this time they’re the leads, playing grandparents who embark on a perilous mission to rescue their late son’s little boy. And although Lane has had her share of girlfriend/wife roles that fell woefully short of maximizing her talents, this time it’s her character of Margaret Blackledge who is the true protagonist.
As Margaret says to George when she packs for a road trip into unknown and dangerous territory: “I’m going with or without you.”
“Let Him Go” is set in the 1950s, but Margaret is the antithesis of the “Mad Men”-era urban housewife. She and George, a retired sheriff, train horses on their Montana ranch and are living a quiet, idyllic life until their beloved son dies in an accident. A couple of years later, their son’s widow marries a member of the notorious Weboy family and they vanish off the grid, somewhere in the Dakotas. Margaret sets out with an initially reluctant George to find the boy.
“At the beginning of the movie, Margaret and George are living in such a wonderful bubble of time and life,” said Lane. “What could be better than living with your grandchild, and seeing your procreation has procreated, and now there’s more to love and you get the chance to hang out with a little baby, because the time goes so quickly and every moment is so precious — and then disaster strikes, and our story really begins. When Margaret suddenly loses her son, she feels [the weight of] missed opportunities for tenderness, which is where I’m kind of at right now with this pandemic.”
Adapted for the big screen by writer-director Thomas Bezucha from the Larry Watson novel of the same name, “Let Him Go” is filled with stark and beautiful shots of the wide-open plains, but nearly all of the most intense and pivotal moments are shot in almost claustrophobically close quarters, as when Margaret and George are invited to a pork chop dinner at the Weboys’ compound, where Lesley Manville’s family matriarch Blanche Weboy makes it crystal-clear that blood will be spilled before she’ll hand over that child. It’s an almost unbearably tense scene, thick with pages of dialogue.
“We had two full days to shoot that sequence, because there’s so much coverage so you can cover all your camera angles with a scene that lengthy,” said Lane. “It was sort of like doing a play, but you do the entire run in two days. It was a short play; we called it ‘Pork Chop Summit.’ ”
Lane said it also helped that the cast was able to convene for rehearsals, which doesn’t happen with every movie. “I know all the departments want their prep time, but we’re a department too. It just benefitted us so much to have that plan of shared intent, conversations about our characters’ back stories, that kind of thing, prior to shooting. It shouldn’t be as rare as it is to have rehearsals in filmmaking, but you often don’t have the time when the meter’s running and you’re on the set.”
The slow dramatic build in “Let Him Go” is like a kettle over a low flame. We know it is inevitable things will heat up to a full boil — but it still comes as a surprise. Comparisons to certain Clint Eastwood films or the works of Sam Peckinpah come to mind, but one extended sequence reminded me of “Taxi Driver” more than any other film.
“Violence in film is as old as the beginning of film,” said Lane. “What I was impressed with about this story is [the violence] felt ‘honest,’ to quote Kevin Costner on it. We’re with this couple, they’re on this journey, they’re blindsided by what happens. They’re not macho types, they’re not looking for a showdown at the O.K. Corral. When we meet Lesley Manville’s character, and she talks of her story, her wounds, how she was forged from the fire of tragedy and loss — you can’t say you weren’t warned …
“It’s an interesting frame of reference of where violence comes from. Hurt people hurt people, as they say, and if we don’t take care of our hearts, we can find ourselves being people we won’t want to be.”