PLOT A headstrong woman searches for her grandson in the rural West of the 1960s.
CAST Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville
RATED R (some strong violence)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A latter-day Western whose story never quite comes into focus.
Thomas Bezucha’s "Let Him Go" stars Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as a middle-aged couple, Margaret and George Blackledge, whose young grandson, Jimmy, falls into the hands of an abusive stepdad. The year is 1963, the setting is the American West and the Blackledges aren’t the kind of folks who go running to authorities. So when little Jimmy unexpectedly vanishes, Margaret loads up the station wagon, stashes a gun under the seat and, with a reluctant George at her side, sets out to bring back the little boy.
The last time Lane and Costner appeared in the same film was an inauspicious occasion: They played Martha and Jonathan Kent in 2016’s wretched "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." That movie squandered them; this movie relies on them perhaps too heavily. Written and directed by Bezucha ("The Family Stone") from Larry Watson’s novel, "Let Him Go" wouldn’t feel nearly as powerful or compelling without its two excellent stars.
Lane ("Unfaithful," "Under the Tuscan Sun") is a perfect choice to play Margaret, whose graying hair and grandmotherly glasses hide the tenacity of a pit bull. Costner, one of the cinema’s last great Quiet American Males, gives an almost wholly interior performance that hints at George’s potential for violence (he’s a former cop). The reason we put up with the film’s somewhat sluggish pace is because these actors radiate such confidence and seem so comfortable together.
"Let Him Go" kicks into gear when the Blackledges meet the Weboys, a creepy family that has laid claim to poor Jimmy. Their matriarch is Blanche Weboy, played by Lesley Manville ("Phantom Thread"), and she’s a puzzling character: somewhere between Depression-era gangster’s moll (bottle-blonde hair, cigarette, Chicago accent) and backwoods cult leader (fiery eyes, fond of hatchets). Blanche sets the movie a-blazing with a shocking act and Manville puts her all into the role, but she’s an oddly drawn villain whose motivations are never clear.
"Let Him Go" aspires to be a deep-reaching Western along the lines of "True Grit" or "Unforgiven," something with thematic heft and existential impact. It’s thwarted by uncertain writing and a tone that wavers between searing violence and gentle drama (the score is by the great sentimentalist Michael Giacchino). "Let Him Go" deserves strong marks for effort though it falls short of its goal.