Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are on an interstate road trip to Yikes-ville in Let Him Go, a dopey new vigilante drama collecting dust on screen faster than your grandmother’s knick knacks on a shelf. Like a Norman Rockwell painting of a public execution, Let Him Go is awfully quaint about the casual violence it accepts as everyday. As the film gets progressively more grim, it almost pathologically leans in toward chicken soup sentimentality to mind-boggling effect. You half expect its high body count finale to end by tunefully rhapsodizing the virtues of waking up to Folgers in your cup.
Set among the rural mountain ranges of the American west, Lane and Costner star as Margaret and George Blackledge, an aging married couple grieving the sudden loss of their adult son. Their daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) quickly marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) to secure financial safety for her son Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung). As soon as Margaret can spot Donnie’s abuse, Donnie escapes with step-son and wife in the night without word. With the Blackledges terrified for their grandson’s safety, Margaret and George take off to find the Weboy home despite the veiled warnings of the locals.
The film’s cozy veneer is demonstrative, constantly asserting what nice people the Blackledges are without really unpacking the grief that freezes them. With a lens of dated Americana, Let Him Go is a quasi-western melodrama too inert and without the curiosity to holistically examine how death has transformed them. Never straying from cliched archetypes, the film’s characterizations are its emptiest attributes. George is merely a gruff vessel for cliched quotables, like a depressing Hallmark card made out of sandpaper and shoe polish, or Archie Bunker on Prozac. Margaret is merely good and intuitive and just. Skilled performers of precise emotional expression like Lane and Costner are grossly underserved by such surface material.
Once we arrive at the Weboys, we get the sense of impending violence without any specifics to what makes the Weboys such a threat. Without signs of actual crime or beyond average menace, they are just generalized People With Guns And Malcontent. With the exception of their female overlord.
Blasting into the snoozy action is Lesley Manville as the Weboy matron Blanche, at least jolting the audience awake if not turning the film’s tide of taste. Her boozy and vaguely punishing presence is surreal and sadly unconvincing. She’s like Ethel Merman firing two pistols into the sky while riding a tumbleweed, but nowhere near as fun. It would be a more gaspingly embarrassing performance from the usually brilliant performer if she weren’t the only participant who appears to be trying to do something. The Weboys are otherwise nondescript, generalized criminals, with Jeffrey Donovan’s Bill Weboy as the snarling ringleader of sorts.
Impossible to tell if the film is a period piece or merely dated, it also trades in archaic notions of familial ownership. Even without the Weboys’ violence, the film coasts on the righteous certainty that their grandson “belongs” foremost to the Blackledge’s, just as their son was seemingly more of a possession than a person. Writer/director Thomas Bezucha, adapting Larry Watson’s novel, fails to capture any human qualities or psychological insight, leaving the material to accidentally represent the most toxic patriarchal mindsets. By asking the Blackledges to posture without understanding them on a meaningful level, the film simply becomes an ugly cartoon.
Barely more than a Death Wish-esque vigilante retread, but vastly less self-aware of its base nature, Let Him Go is a dour and tasteless exercise in pulp miserablism. With no reason to be as hacky as it is, the missed-opportunity film can only be seen the same as one of the Blackledge’s describes life itself: “a list of what we’ve lost.”