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Movie review: Kevin Costner, Diane Lane prop up pulpy western ‘Let Him Go’

Al Alexander
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A scene from "Let Him Go."

Somewhere buried deep within the hackneyed genre thriller “Let Him Go” resides a pretty nifty story about the give and take between a long-married Montana couple confronting age, grief and an elusive connection with their widowed daughter-in-law. Because said couple is played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, aka the adopted parents of Superman no less, only adds to the richness of a character study rife with beauty and tenderness.

In other words, all the ingredients for a satisfying night at the movies for folks of a certain age looking for entertainment mirroring their own messy lives. But writer-director Thomas Bezucha eschews all in favor of pandering to the masses in the confines of a dumbed down equivalent of “Deliverance” meets “The Fighter” in which an adorable grandson serves as the grand prize sought by warring families clinging to widely divergent values. Who wins? Does it matter? Not to Bezucha. He consistently goes for the cheap and easy, grinding nuance into the ground with a heavy boot heel. At least it has the esteemed Lesley Manville working well outside her wheelhouse trading her usual British working-class environs for something akin to Melissa Leo’s Oscar-winning turn as the matriarch from hell in “The Fighter.”

She’s Blanche Weboy, a nasty piece of Black Hills redneckery lording over her doltish sons and a brother (Jeffrey Donovan) wearing his menace on his sleeve. It’s late 1950s Gladstone, North Dakota, although the time period and location never really fit in with what boils down to a heavily armed custody battle between busybody grandparents with nothing better to do than wield guns, hatchets and ornery dispositions. What Mom, the kid’s birthmother, thinks doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. She’s merely a pawn in a high-stakes contest of last man - or in this case, woman - standing.

I would classify what transpires as cynical and jejune, but that might insinuate Bezucha has anything of value to add in weakly adapting Larry Watson’s novel about warring Midwestern grandparents acting like selfish, violent idiots. Bezucha is disappointingly pleased to stick to the basics in proving heads are thicker than blood. Shame, too, because Costner, Lane and Manville act the hell out of it. I’d even rate it as one of Costner’s finer moments as a hunky thespian. But he, like his two excellent female co-stars, is constantly undermined by cheesy writing and ridiculous implausible happenings that can only unfold in a movie sourced from a dime-store novel.

OK, I get it, “Let Him Go” is a neo-Western pitting white hats against black hats, or put in more modern terms, Red State values vs. Blue State. The latter, of course, are well represented by Lane and Costner, aka the “good guys.” They are cut from the thick oak of Middle America principles and beliefs insisting words are far more persuasive than bullets. Except that strays far from the philosophies of the knuckle-dragging Weboy clan, particularly young, budding domestic-abuser, Donnie (Will Britain). He’s the new, not-so-nice husband of the recently widowed daughter-in-law of George and Margaret Blackledge (Costner and Lane), Montana ranchers who seem to have nothing better to do than spend their days stalking their 5-year-old grandson, Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung), and his mousy mother, Lorna (Kayli Carter).

Almost on cue, Margaret happens to see Donnie smack the kid and Lorna with the back of his hand. Jimmy must be “rescued,” she thinks, but before she can act, he’s disappeared along with Lorna and Donnie. It’s time to load up the vintage Chevy and head across the border into North Dakota to snatch the kid back. Rational, right? Why bother getting attorneys and welfare workers involved when a snub-nosed pistol is just as just in settling legal fights?

The fun starts when George and Margaret find their way to the drably appointed shack the Weboys call home. It’s like a gathering of crazed mouth breathers getting their kicks chopping off extremities with hatchets. Do Nana and Pop-Pop stand a chance against these troglodytes? To Bezucha’s credit, the ending isn’t quite the neat-and-tidy kumbaya you’re expecting, but that doesn’t prevent it from becoming a barrel of unintentional laughs.

Still, it’s worth seeing it just to bask in the brilliance of Costner and Lane. They have the smarts and chemistry to fully sell their roles as adoring man and wife who will do anything for each other, including kidnapping, murder and coercion. I jest, but they actually are an extremely attractive couple who are so adorable together I caught my heart melting. But once the guns and contrivances are brandished, they lost me. So did “Let Him Go,” a movie about family that’s more childish than paternal; more corrosive than healing. But it has Lane and Costner. And in the midst of a stifling pandemic, they’re about as welcome as welcome can get.

Al Alexander may be reached at alexandercritica@aol.com.

“Let Him Go”

Cast includes Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Lesley Manville, Jeffrey Donovan and Kayli Carter. In theaters starting Nov. 6.

(R for violence.)

Grade: B-