The abrupt removal of the Bond movie and most Sony and Warners films from the next eight months gives you some clue what the cinematic narrative for 2021 is going to be; a long uphill struggle. Any business that requires packing people together to break even, whether blockbusters, festivals or live events, is surplus to requirements as it dawns on audiences that even with vaccines, there’s little chance of normal service being resumed. Of course, with huge captive audiences at home, there’s even more product to review than ever, but the cinema to streaming model has been broken, perhaps permanently, and there’s no way to break even at best.
Thomas Bezucha’s Let Him Go has been one of the few success stories of 2020, a number on hit in the US and UK, yet still taking in a fraction of the box-office that might be expected. As with the duelling Liam Neeson movies du jour (Honest Thief, The Marksman), it seems to hark back to another era; the most excitingly cast movie of 1987, Let Him Go features Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as a resourceful couple of stand up for their family bonds when their grandson is spirited away by a violent matriarch (Lesley Manville) and the Weboys, her fiendish family of thugs. If you imagine that this adaptation of Larry Watson’s novel will end with Costner facing down a handful of goons with a shotgun, you’d be dead right; with a few minor twists and turns, this is a straightforward revenge story with a few grace notes.
So let’s be positive; Costner was and still is a movie star; he seems to be have been rejuvenated by a hair-transplant, and is still a draw when he returns to the crowd-pleasing action roots of Elliot Ness in The Untouchables. As retired sheriff George Blackledge, Costner has a nice line in measured steel, and is ably matched by Streets of Fire chanteuse Diane Lane as his wife Margaret, who sees their grandson being cuffed in the street one day by his step-father, and sees an urgent tear in her family unit. While Costner is fine, it’s Lane’s presence that elevates Let Him Go to something more than just a period (1963) Western drama.
Not everything lands here; there’s no explanation of how the Weboy clan came to exist in such isolation and yet with such protection from the law, Manville is way over-the-top as the scheming mother, and the treatment of a Native American Indian character as a plot-point isn’t great. But those seeking old-school Western gravity will enjoy the attractions here; two big, personable movie stars fighting to defend their family is easy to watch, particularly when Costner and Lane evoke the hard-scrabble back-stories of a desperate, driven couple who have already known enough pain for one life. Sure, we’ll always have streaming, but films like Let Him Go represent the last gasp of a kind of traditional cinema that’s unlikely to survive beyond the year.