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Let Him Go

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2020

‘…it’s Lane’s presence that elevates Let Him Go to something more than just a period (1963) Western drama…’

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.

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    • Yes, this is proper movie star stuff, and has a haunting, elegy quality that’s quite compelling…

  1. ‘last gasp of a kind of traditional cinema…’ or next gen? We’ve had revisionist, spaghetti, and modern westerns. This film seemed to have many traditional elements, including multiple clashes (people, ideas, morals); dis/respect for the land/nature; a depiction of wild west justice/civilization vs lawlessness; and tradition vs technology (iron horses, guns vs arrows, & telegraph vs smoke signal). It also seemed to have another echo of older westerns–the morality of violence & vengeance vs letting go. That’s perhaps a better title for this film?

    This film might aso have been called Three Mothers-one seemed to be vying for over the top Manchurian Candidate mommy award (or Mrs Lift, Throw Mama From the Train); one was a robo mom; and Lane was Mommy Fiercest. Women seldom had lead roles in westerns, nor, as you point out, did Native Americans. Worst still, whites with spray tans got the Indian roles.
    I’ve been doing research for a future blog about cowboys. Quickly realized working title ‘How the West was Hung,’ wouldn’t work. The dime store western has come and gone, however, I’d like to think we’ll see future Westerns that address traditional themes with as much candor as can be mustered, and a bigger nod to telling the stories of unsung heroes. Unfortunately, I don’t think Superman’s parents quite pulled it off in Let Him Go. I did appreciate the brevity of dialogue and grandeur of uncivilized spaces. Costner does a better job in TV series Yellowstone IMO. However, the wild west frontier still exists–as vast expanses of unsullied land, and as an imaginary line separating the known from unknown. It still dares us to cross that line and rediscover those elements that attracted many intrepid souls to Go West and be awed.

    • I’d be keen to read a blog called How The West Was Hung! I think the cowboy brand is seen as toxic right now, but mainly due to the efforts of a few yahoos. So at least Costner and Lane are trying to rehabilitate something, even if the results are rather conventional. There’s a little S Craig Zahler in here as well, with the violent disfigurement and the out-of-time atmosphere. But the outcome never in doubt, and that was a probalem; the good guys better drawn than the bad, and an unbalancing of the film as a result…

  2. I’m excited for this one; it’s the kind of film I definitely would’ve gone to the theater to see. It does hurt to know that the movie theaters are going the way of the record store. For me, nothing beats the big screen. But streaming sure is great.

  3. I am all for cinemas going bust and failing. Temples of filth, that’s what they are. And while I might have meant that in a metaphorical, spiritual way, now that I think about it, I also mean in a literal way too!
    And if all the movie stars suddenly stopped getting all the attention, or grabbing it, I’d be ok with that too. Of course, they’ll adjust (or the next generation will) and we’ll get more of the same just in a different way. Call me cynical but narcissism seems to be almost necessary part of being an actor.

    If Costner is going thin, he should just accept it and go full on bald. I’ve never understood why men place so much value on such little extrusions from their heads. Like a bunch of little worms bursting out all over your skull!

    • That’s not what my hair is like, and if you’re having worms bursting out of your skull, maybe you should seek medical advice. Lusterous locks, that’s where I’m at. But otherwise, you’re right, rather than a cinema critic, I should terms myself a ‘filth advisor’ and direct people to where they can view appropriate filth while their local filth-temple in shut. Good shout!

    • And Leprechant 6 in Space isn’t? Alex, I’m sorry, but I have to question the process here; why does Costner draw a snarl but comedy slasher movies about gnomes get a free pass?

      • *sigh* Leprechaun 4 was In Space. Leprechaun 6 was Back 2 Tha Hood. Weren’t you taking notes??

        Now, in answer to your question, Warwick Davis has greater range than Costner. He also looks like he’s having more fun. Plus I’m tired of watching aging stars facing down young punks and telling them to get off his lawn. Been done! But leprechauns in space???

        • I’m just messing with your melon, man, I know you can easily be confused by muddling up the time-line of your beloved Lep movies.

          No fan of Lane? Streets of Fire? I’m just saying that you’re going down a pro-Lep rabbit hole and ignoring the rich tapestry of non-Lep cinema…

          • I actually do like Lane. And she might have counterbalanced Costner here but for your description of the plot, which sounds too close to Last Blood for me.

            • What about this plot, how does it sound to you?

              Costner and Lane don the familiar little gold-buckled hats and return for another entry in the Leprechaun franchise; this time, playing miniature Irish adventurers in space.

              That sound more to your liking?

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