Diane Lane and Kevin Costner have played a middle-aged, married, western U.S. farm couple before.
That was in 2013, when they appeared as Martha and George Kent of Smallville, Kan., in Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” – a piece of filmmaking so comprehensively bad, on every level of the craft, that it sets off the excellence of their new movie.
“Let Him Go” from Focus Features is the screen pairing the two actors were always meant to have, and I’m delighted to have seen it.
In this new film, written and directed by Thomas Bezucha from a novel by Larry Watson, they play Margaret and George Blackledge. He’s a retired sheriff from Montana; she was a horse breaker, until their son James died in a fall off a horse.
Now they’re on a road trip to North Dakota, trying to track down James’ widow, Lorna, and their son Jimmy, before her new husband’s family makes them disappear from their lives forever.
Well before they meet the Weboy family in person, there are ominous hints about the type of people they’ll be dealing with.
It’s a credit to both the writing and the acting in the film that their experiences channel directly into the viewer’s emotions. We feel anger, helplessness, terror, suspense, courage and, at last, deadly resolve right along with them.
More than just a slow-burning suspense flick with spasms of shock and danger, it’s a movie that gazes deeply into memories of grief, domestic abuse, child custody issues and Native American affairs – through the experience of one character whose forced attendance at an Indian school “killed the Indian inside.”
It’s also a feast for the eyes, put together with skill, taste and intelligence. Props go to director of photography Guy Godfree and production designer Trevor Smith for making it such a fine picture to look at – superbly lit and textured, with gorgeous scenery and period details that bring their mid-1960s settings to life and make them feel lived in.
Credit is also due to actors Lesley Manville and Jeffrey Donovan as the twisted matriarch of the Weboy clan and her creepy brother. Their performances as the villainous Blanche and Bill create images you’ll find in your mind when you start awake in the middle of the night.
But finally, it’s all about putting the right two actors together, at last, in the right movie. Costner and Lane play anything but a perfect couple with an ideal marriage. But in “Let Him Go,” their characters prove to each other, to themselves and to the viewer that they have a love and a strength equal to anything the Weboys can throw down.
The Blackledge’s conversation over dinner in a restaurant, around the midpoint of the film, held me on the verge of tears (or maybe just over it) for a span of minutes. I ended up really caring about them.
If you get a chance to see this movie in a theater, online or on video, don’t pass it up.
This review is based on a virtual advance screening courtesy of Focus Features.