Let Him Go is a highly deceptive film, and all the better for it. It starts on a quiet Montana ranch, where long-term married couple George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret (Diane Lane) live with their son James (Ryan Bruce) and daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) and their infant grandson. But then, out of the blue, their offspring dies in a riding accident – an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that shows writer-director Thomas Bezucha is not afraid to treat his audience with a modicum of intelligence.
The story moves on three years and Lorna has re-married to the volatile Donnie (Will Brittain). By chance, Margaret sees Donnie hit both Lorna and her grandson in the street. Then, before they know what’s happening, Donnie, Lorna and the boy have gone, without a word. Margaret is determined to find them. And so with George, she sets off on the road to trace Donnie’s wider family, the Weboys, who have something of a reputation.
It’s about now that you begin to suspect that Let Him Go is not the familiar domestic drama it appears to be. Adapted from the 2013 novel by Larry Watson, the film gradually moves into neo-western territory as Margaret and George happen upon the Weboy (pronounced ‘wee-boy’) clan, led by the no-nonsense matriarch Blanche (Leslie Manville), who live in a rural homestead in North Dakota. Manville immediately recalls Shelley Winters in 1970’s Bloody Mama – playing Ma Barker, the insane mother of family of bank robbers.
A simple dinner offering of pork chops soon becomes tense, when Blanche puts Margaret’s grandson to bed the moment she arrives. With Lorna clearly terrified by these in-laws, you just know it’s not going to end well. But Bezucha manages to ground this story so it never feels over-wrought or fantastical. A slow-burner, it builds towards a blazing finale, punctuated with one shocking moment of violence in a hotel room.
Both Lane and Costner – who played Martha and Jonathan Kent, the adoptive parents of Superman in Man of Steel – are perfect together. You feel like they’ve lived a life together from the moment the film starts. With a story that deals with unconditional love and the extremes people go to for family, it’s an adult drama aimed at those who like their cinema to be considered and cultivated. And it sure hits the target.
Let Him Go is available in cinemas and on digital from 18 December. For more details, click here.