It’s rare to find a Hollywood movie featuring mature stars that’s worthy of their participation and has a decent story to tell. Let Him Go is based on a novel by Larry Watson, interpreted here by writer-director Thomas Bezucha (who won me over with his 2005 feature The Family Stone). Costner has settled comfortably into a Gary Cooper niche, playing an ex-sheriff and rancher who accompanies his wife, Diane Lane, on a journey that leads to sadness and sacrifice far beyond their expectations.
Lane, who is always good, has never been better. Her character is well-drawn, with shadings and colorings the actress rarely gets to play. She seems like a straight shooter but keeps a well of emotion in reserve, lest it burst open and drown her in sorrow. But she is a woman of quiet determination who does what she has to do to protect her daughter-in-law and especially her tiny grandson, who has been taken away under cover of darkness. He’s now in the hands of an abusive father and his strange, volatile family.
We meet this elusive, gothic clan in stages, as the movie morphs into melodrama. Bezucha masterfully steers us through all of this, effectively building tension in several key scenes and taking his time before offering us (and his characters) a release. Jeffrey Donovan and the incomparable Lesley Manville have standout supporting roles and make the most of them.
But it is the relationship between the stars that anchors this film; they make a perfect match. Costner projects quiet strength, and Lane has a showcase scene, during a quiet moment before the drama accelerates, that’s as fine a piece of acting as I’ve seen this past year. It takes place in a restaurant, where she lets her guard down and makes herself vulnerable in front of the one man she knows she can trust.
Released in theaters in November, during the pandemic, Let Him Go never had a chance to find the audience it deserves. Now that it’s available on streaming platforms I feel obliged to spread the word.