Movie Guru: Grab a taste of pure old Western with ‘Let Him Go’
The biggest thing you have to know about “Let Him Go” is that it’s as much a Western as anything John Wayne ever made.
True, it might not seem that way on the surface. The movie, which opened in theaters last weekend, is set in the 1960s. There are whole stretches where there’s not a cowboy hat in sight, and even more where there isn’t a horse. The plot even tries to mask the issue at first, making itself look more like a family drama than anything.
The movie’s heart, though, is pure classic Western. A spare, laconic look at fiercely independent people fighting to make it in a lawless territory. You can see strains of both John Wayne and Clint Eastwood running underneath the surface. Here, though, those roles are taken by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, who both offer gripping performances that timelessly embody the spirit of the cinematic West.
The film opens with a glimpse at a small family ranch, which is soon rocked by a family tragedy. This results in Costner and Lane’s characters losing their grandchild, who gets dragged away by their daughter-in-law when she marries an abusive man. The new husband promptly takes both daughter-in-law and grandchild away to stay with his deeply territorial family, and Lane has to decide how much she’s willing to risk to free her grandson.
This is not a cheerful film, but that’s true of most of the old-school Westerns. The West was a harsh and unforgiving place in those old movies, and the people on it were often worn down to the bone as they fought to hold onto what was theirs. There were also moments of shocking, brutal violence, a fact that holds just as true for “Let Him Go.”
Lane is the burning heart of the movie, driven by the kind of anger and grief that has set more than one cowboy off on a seemingly impossible mission. It’s her fire that propels the film forward for most of its runtime, a fact that the script stumbles with only during the climactic final scene. Costner is her quiet backup, the loved one that follows the hero into danger even though they’re both going to die, and he and Lane are fantastic together. Please, Hollywood, pair them up in more than just this. Superman’s parents, perhaps?
The supporting cast is great as well. Kayli Carter is nuanced and a little heartbreaking as Costner and Lane’s daughter-in-law, caught in a world beyond her control but with a fierceness of her own. Booboo Stewart is even more heartbreaking as a young man who ran away from an Indian boarding school and runs into our questing couple. While I’m not sure what his larger purpose is in the movie, he brings a healthy dose of warmth and heart every second he’s onscreen.
It’s not a perfect movie — there are some pacing issues, and the ending could have been restructured — but the cast almost makes you forget that. And if you’re looking for a new version of a classic Western, you won’t find anything better.
Let Him Go
Rated R for violence
Screenplay by Thomas Bezucha
Based on the novel by Larry Watson
Directed by Thomas Bezucha
Starring Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Kayli Carter, Booboo Stewart, Jeffrey Donovan, Will Brittain, Ryan Bruce, Adam Stafford and more
Grade: Three stars
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.