Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Let Him Go

It's been ages since I've been able to go to the movies. Tonight, the movies came to me. Through my employer, I was given a chance to see an invitation-only, virtual sneak preview of the new film Let Him Go via Focus Films. Based on a novel by Larry Watson, it's written for the screen and directed by Thomas Bezucha and features Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as the middle-aged, married, western U.S. farm couple they were meant to play, at long last, in a film that doesn't stink. I had to add that last bit because they already played a middle-aged, married, western U.S. farm couple, but that was in Man of Steel and was a complete waste of their talents and potential as a screen couple. This movie, however, was not.

I don't want to over-discuss the Man of Steel thing, but I think it might be worthwhile to count some of the ways that movie was terrible in order to appreciate more fully the precise reasons I found Let Him Go satisfactory. To start, the 2013, Zack Snyder-directed Superman flick featured Costner and Lane as George and Martha Kent of rural Smallville, Kansas. While they made a valiant effort to elevate already well-canvassed material, there was finally no way they could save a film that was so badly photographed, badly dramatized, badly production-designed, badly directed, badly edited – I mean needlessly, pointlessly, aggressively bad on pretty much every level of the filmmaking craft. It's infuriating cinematic drivel, full of unearned and unmotivated camera movement, accidental-on-purpose autofocus effects, terrible CGI, an ugly color palate, ugly scenery, gratuitous property damage, stupid character treatments, a lack of personal charm and what seems like a perverse unwillingness to capitalize on Henry Cavill's good looks. But I've said more than enough about that.

Rather, let's now turn toward Let Him Go, and never look back. You're welcome. It's a fine picture to look at. It's superbly lit, textured, decorated, shot. I don't know the technicalities of how one would do this, but one did it. I don't think I've ever, in my many movie reviews, mentioned the names of the director of photography or the production designer, but I want to honor them now because I appreciate so much what they did on this picture: DP Guy Godfree and PD Trevor Smith. If I really had the background to be a movie critic, I could probably also say intelligent things about the editing, sound design, and whatnot. But I was just super into the whole look of this movie. It was so beautiful that it touched my heart, from the scenic vistas to the little, 1960s home interiors, the period streets and cars, the sleek horses and the remote highways with hardly a power line to be seen. It brings its time and setting to life and makes them feel lived in.

The story is also very powerful. It involves a Montana couple named George and Margaret Blackledge; he's a retired sheriff and she used to break horses for a living, until their son James died in a fall from a horse. A few years later, James' widow, Lorna, has gotten married to a weasely guy named Donnie Weboy, who Margaret sees beating on Lorna and little Jimmy, her son by the late James. No sooner has Margaret made up her mind to do something about this, than the couple ups stakes and moves back to Donnie's mother's ranch in North Dakota, the Blackledges' grandbaby and all. George grudgingly joins his wife on a road trip to look for them, and when they find them, the Weboy clan turns out to be a brutal gang who won't let Lorna and Jimmy escape without a fight. A fight they get – making the last half of the movie a slow-cooking stew of suspense that finally boils over into shocking violence.

Joining the dream couple in the film that finally deserves them are Jeffrey Donovan, late of Burn Notice, as one of the Weboy boys; Lesley Manville of The Crown as the terrifying Blanche Weboy; Booboo Stewart of the Twilight films as Peter, the young hermit who ran away from Indian school too late and found that it had already "killed the Indian inside"; and Will Hochman, whom I recognized as the surprise "new Reagan" who materialized at the end of last season on Blue Bloods, here playing a shopkeeper with an ominous scar on his neck. Overall it's a good cast, playing their roles effectively enough that you react emotionally to them. For example, the sheriff played by Greg Lawson (who also plays a sheriff on Wynonna Earp) made me so mad that I swore at him and wanted Kevin Costner to get up off his hospital bed and hit him. (A vague spoiler, there.) But since I evidently can't wait to talk about them, here are the ...

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Over dinner in a restaurant, George asks Margaret what she whispered in the ear of a beloved family horse named Strawberry, just before he put it down. What she says, and what Costner says back, brought me to the edge of tears and kept me there for a span of minutes. (2) The awful night when the Weboys force their way into the Blackledges' motel room, which made me feel helpless, angry and scared on their behalf. (3) The final shot of the film – and here I should mention that having to narrow it down to just three has rarely been harder – when the sun rises behind the car as Margaret heads west, and its light reflecting off the windshield mirror casts a golden glow around Diane Lane's eyes, and for the last of many times during this movie's run-time I'm reminded that every aspect of filmmaking came together perfectly in it from the acting, writing and directing to the lighting, photography and beyond. It's so good, in fact, I just wish Costner and Lane had waited for this movie to bring them together on screen. But if even Man of Steel can be forgiven, this is the movie to make it happen.

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