Let Him Go (2020)

“I won’t be coming back here without him.”

When it comes to this stodgy yet sturdy film adaptation of Let Him Go, seemingly suffering from dissociative identity disorder, there’s something so obviously missing. It’s initially a hearty and personable familial drama seeking closure; the initial pacing is off but the emotions are there. But that’s merely the cool side of the pillow though, and more often than not it rests on the uncomfortable, unhinged, heated flip side fueled by vengeance. I haven’t read Larry Watson’s novel, yet I suspect that its morality play roots have been poorly adapted in a picture that knows right from wrong but not left from right. It’s missing beats, moments, and an honest sense of direction.

For how tonally incoherent most of writer/director Thomas Bezucha’s film is, the movie at least makes creative choices early on and brazenly bold decisions throughout. And while entirely too rushed and lacking much definition, the story opens with deathly heartache, finding the older generation stunned by the tragic loss of the dear son James Blackledge (Ryan Bruce). Margaret Blackledge (Diane Lane) knows something is wrong from the silence of a wild horse. George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) arrives too late. Lorna (Kayli Carter) becomes a widow by the buck of an unbroken mare. The open lacks details and patience but leaves enough breadcrumbs to keep us trailing behind, hoping for something more. Unfortunately this one takes the complete opposite fork in the road. No wonder it’s so unsatisfying.

In a rare piece of surprising storytelling, Let Him Go seems to appropriately set up a funeral only to segue into a new loveless marriage for Lorna, now unhappily wed to Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). George and Margaret choose to forever hold their peace over speaking, but they’re concerned for their lone grandson Jimmy. Donnie is an abuser, and that they leave town without letting the Blackledge’s know sets off every trigger warning and parental instinct. George and Margaret already nonsensically lost their own child; they won’t possibly run the risk of losing their late child’s son as well. The dramatic stakes are earned, but the execution is laughable. It’s impossible to take the latter half of this film seriously.

More than anything, I left the lethargic and lazy Let Him Go wondering what the experience might’ve been like on the page. I wonder if the matriarchal Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville, delivering the film’s lone interesting performance) might have more depth than she does here, portraying a Southern Belle version of Mommie Dearest who’s determined to raise her boys by rearing them roughly and caging them in the family home. I wonder if the Weboy’s grip on the small town and police would make sense, because here it does not. I wonder if the dichotomy between right from wrong would be more blurred, and would make for a more compelling tug of war between love and hate. Maybe those components work well in the novel. On the screen though, Let Him Go is an aimless, stunted, at times even unintentionally hilariously attempt at a generational family drama. What an appropriate title.

“When are you going to stop torturing yourself?”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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