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‘Let Him Go’: Steely duo takes on a ruthless family in a rousing noir-Western

Watching Diane Lane and Kevin Costner connect as a couple determined to retrieve their grandson is pure movie heaven.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner play a married couple forced to leave their Montana ranch after their grandson disappears in “Let Him Go.”
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We are nearly halfway through the starkly beautiful period-piece action drama “Let Him Go” when Lesley Manville’s family matriarch prepares dinner for two guests who aren’t entirely welcome in her home, even though they’ve been invited.

“I hope you all like pork chops,” she says with a smile so icy it could freeze water, and just like that, the tension level in the room has soared. This is not a dinner that’s going to end with the host handing over her secret recipe for those chops, and the guests promising to return the favor by hosting the next get-together real soon.

Writer-director Thomas Bezucha (adapting the 2013 novel of the same name by Larry Watson) has delivered a quintessentially American, mid-20th century film that succeeds as an intimate character study of two very different extended families, as well as a rousing, violent and shockingly brutal noir-Western with echoes of the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men,” John Ford’s “The Searchers” and certain films by Sam Peckinpah. The abrupt tonal shifts may throw some viewers for a loop, but when the confrontations segue from tense verbal exchanges to sudden bursts of violence, it feels authentic and organic to the foundation laid down in the first half of the film.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner played Ma and Pa Kent in “Man of Steel” and added some much-needed heart to the D.C. Universe, but those were decidedly secondary roles. Now these two generationally respected actors are front and center, driving the story, and it’s pure movie heaven to see how wonderful and real they are together as they expertly portray a long-married couple who have endured more than most experience in a lifetime, and yet will stay together no matter what.

When we meet Lane’s Margaret and Costner’s George (a retired sheriff), it’s the 1950s and they’re living on their Montana ranch, where Margaret breaks horses with the help of George and their beloved son James (Ryan Bruce), who lives on the property with his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their infant son. It’s an idyllic existence — until it falls apart in an instant, when James is thrown from a horse and is instantly killed.

Cut to about three years later, with Lorna marrying one Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) in a small and depressing ceremony in Town Hall. The Blackledges, and Margaret in particular, had never fully warmed up to the insecure and impulsive Lorna, and now she’s with a no-good, low-rent, abusive miscreant who undoubtedly will make it difficult for them to see their grandson. A short while later, Donnie and Lorna and the boy take off without notice — and Margaret announces her intentions to find them and save her grandson. It matters not she has only a vague idea of where the Weboy clan lives other than somewhere in the Dakotas; she’s leaving, with or without George, and says, “I won’t be coming back without him.”

Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville) does not let scruples get in the way of protecting her family.
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With songs such as “Crazy Dreams” by Patsy Cline playing on the car radio and the country ahead of them stretching out forever, Margaret and George head out, with George reminding Margaret they have no legal standing to take their grandson even if they do find the Weboy clan. But of course, we know they WILL find the Weboy clan, and what a scary and creepy bunch they are. You get the feeling they watch “Deliverance” on Family Movie Night.

Lesley Manville’s Blanche Weboy is a creation of pure Shakespearean evil, who isn’t about to let the Blackledges or anyone else mess with her brood, as is made abundantly clear during that aforementioned pork chop dinner gone sideways. Lane and Manville are electric when they’re face to face, as two grandmothers who couldn’t be more different but share one thing in common: a fierce, burning, inextinguishable protective instinct when it comes to family. When Margaret and George leave the Weboy compound, we know this isn’t over and the Weboys know this isn’t over, and their dispute isn’t going to be resolved in a court of law. And the next time someone comes calling, there’s not going to be a knock on the door.

Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart, right, with Kevin Costner) helps the Blackledges with their mission.
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In between the moments of tragedy and violence, “Let Him Go” has its share of lovely and tender interludes, as when George remembers a moment from when their son was just a boy, and Margaret whispered words of comfort to a terminally sick horse on the ranch in the seconds before George had to put the poor creature out of its misery. And the Blackledges find an unexpected ally in a young Native American named Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart, in a sensitive and winning performance) who is living off the grid after escaping from a traumatic time at an Indian Residential Boarding School. Margaret sees some of her own son in Peter, and a parental bond is quickly forged.

Even with Peter as their ally, the Blackledges are far outnumbered and out of their depth, yet they continue to tangle with those dangerous and ruthless Weboys. Only a few short years after Margaret had to let go of her son, she’s being told to let her grandson go as well — but this time she has a say in the matter, and she’s not going down without the fight of a lifetime.