Let Him Go

Enough Redbox points for a free movie, expiring TODAY. No movies I have a strong desire to see. Crapshoot. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. If the movie ends up being bad, the positive side is that I only wasted time, and not money. If it ends up being good, it feels like a small win. I’ll take what I can get.

If the possible choices are divided equally between those on the good side and those on the bad side, Let Him Go (2020; Redbox, or available for purchase on streaming sites) would fall pretty firmly on the good side, although not without some (minor?) reservations. Kevin Costner as George and Diane Lane as Margaret are predictably good as bereaved grandparents, whose ex-daughter-in-law, Lorna (Kayli Carter) essentially disappears with her new husband and, more importantly, with their grandson, Jimmy. Lesley Manville is terrifying as the materfamilias of the Weboy clan. Jeffrey Donovan is superbly menacing. In fact, nearly all the acting is superior.

And the film is beautiful, cast in early ’60s Western tones of yellow, softened around the edges. The sun is often just behind a tree or house or mountain, making even the Blackledges’ grief glow. The landscapes (set in Montana and North Dakota, but filmed in Alberta) are sweeping and majestic. Kitchens, restaurants, cars, and grocery stores all put us convincingly in the world of 1961 Montana.

From the synopsis, I had the impression that I was going to see another revenge movie with Kevin Costner taking out the bad guys who (I thought) kidnapped his grandson. But that is not really the case, and it is much more a slow-burn story of a husband and wife than I expected. In some ways, this is Diane Lane’s film, even more than Costner’s. That is supported by the final scenes, in which her determination and will to survive in the aftermath of grief are inscribed on her face.

It is a little strange to me that in spite of everything I liked about the movie, it was not quite satisfying. Perhaps if I had read the book on which the movie is based, some mental gaps might be filled in. The plot is something different than the usual (lots of movies have parents attempting to rescue children, but I don’t recall any with grandparents pursuing grandchildren), a sort of western, with, surprisingly, elements of horror. Trying to identify my issue, possibly the build-up was too slow for the large explosion of action in the end.

Or maybe I could not quite accept the initial motivation for the whole enterprise. Clearly, George is hesitant to go, but will do so for Margaret, rather than allow her to pursue bad people on her own. Once they see what kind of people the Weboys are (hinted at strongly by the people whom they encounter on their trip), I can see that George has no choice but to make the attempt he does. But up to that point, Margaret’s and George’s choices did not quite click solidly into place for me. The idea that they could realistically remove Jimmy, if not Lorna, from the Weboys’ house seemed far-fetched.

But maybe it does not really matter in the end, because Margaret, out of the emotion of losing their son, cannot and will not let their grandson stay with an evil and abusive family. And the Weboys are both, almost completely. It is an almost incestuous and inbred corruption of “family,” irredeemable, like a mid-century North Dakota version of Animal Kingdom. Thus, we are justified in rooting for their destruction, although there is a high cost to George and Margaret. Although I hoped for a happier ending for Peter (Booboo Stewart), this is, as I said, Margaret’s movie. And though I don’t think she’d say it was “worth it,” she manages to rescue Jimmy and Lorna and we are certain she will survive.

On their way to North Dakota, George stops to visit James’s grave, Margaret refuses to get out of the car, saying she “knows what [she’s] lost.” George’s words could be an epigraph to the movie: “Sometimes that’s all life is, Margaret: a list of what we’ve lost.”