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The Let Him Go movie poster could have alerted me. The top part, cut on a sharp diagonal, drew me in with the close-up of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. What a great pairing, I thought. I’m in. It was the lower part I must have missed: huge flames lash the sky. 

The reviews suggested some violence. There wasn’t only “some.”  

Set in 1963 Montana, the story concerns an older married couple, George (Costner) and Margaret Blackledge (Lane). George is a retired sheriff who works quietly around his ranch with his fierce-willed wife who overrides her daughter-in-law’s wishes over grandson, Jimmy. Their son’s death while horseback riding starts the story. 

Several years pass with the scene change, and daughter-in-law Lorna marries again. She jerks away from her new husband’s kiss, and here we might notice that the groom, Donnie Weboy, radiates trouble. 

Later, Margaret drives through town and spies Donnie abusing Lorna and Jimmy. When Margaret returns to rescue them, the family has moved from the apartment—without word. “Out of state,” says the landlord. George then joins the determined Margaret to collect Jimmy. 

Until now, the movie is serious and artful. I liked its quiet scenes, its evident complexity. There was visual poetry. There were problems, and there was love. This was not, I understood, a Hallmark channel show. 

And then. 

George, who reads people with one glance, knows they’ve encountered real trouble when they meet Donnie’s brother, Bill Weboy. There is an entire clan involved—the likes of which when describing it, fear closes the speaker’s face.

My stomach began hurting over Jeffery Donovan’s portrayal of Bill, a lecherous, violent man, and I hadn’t even met Mama Weboy yet. The latter, played by Leslie Manville, deserves notice. 

Costner explains in a video promotion that viewers don’t know where the movie is going and that it fills them with dread. Right. 

While other reviewers name Let Him Go a “thriller,” I’d quibble here and use the word “horror.” A hotel scene crossed my line—and I walked out. Coming out the second door was another woman. We gazed at each other and shook our heads “no.” 

The genre is called “neo-Western,” characterized by absence of societal rules and a presence of regret, says writer Julia Teti. Examples of neo-Westerns range from Paul Newman’s Hud (1963) to the Coens’s No Country for Old Men (2007).

Let Him Go is based on Larry Watson’s 2013 novel of the same title.

Director Thomas Bezucha has several romantic comedies beneath his writing and directing belt. This is not one of them. Still, I can’t help but think that someone other than me might respect this movie with its artful and horrible truth. (Focus Features).

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