Westerns had John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. Space westerns were the domain of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. Now, Kevin Costner stakes his claim to to the “modern” western.
In “Let Him Go,” he plays a Montanan who saunters into a North Dakota town and tries to size up the odds before claiming a right to his son’s son.
Clearly, the deck is stacked against him. His late son’s wife has married a real wild card who has taken Costner's grandson to Gladstone, North Dakota, where they appear to have no ability to call home.
Because she’s suspicious, Costner’s wife (Diane Lane) vows to check things out. The dutiful husband goes with and, along the way, the two get the eerie feeling these nutjobs are not playing by others’ rules.
Sure enough, the matriarch (a wild Lesley Manville) has the Weboys (yeah, that’s their name) under her thumb. They openly intimidate others and make visitors feel highly unwelcome.
Lane, however, isn’t giving up without a Hatfields and McCoys fight.
That’s where Costner gets to channel his inner “Taken.” He sizes up the Weboys while Lane works her daughter-in-law.
It’s a real mental game, particularly since the film’s stars don’t have much dialogue.
When he does speak, Costner uses his gritty voice; Lane shows jittery concern. They’re a good team, even if writer/director Thomas Bezucha doesn’t explain much along the way.
Manville and company, in case you didn’t know, aren’t your typical North Dakotans. They’re folks who’ve been holed up too long in a house that doesn’t appear big enough for three more.
That daughter-in-law is a little suspect, too, particularly since she didn’t say much to Costner and Lane about leaving.
When they do reconnect, she’s hardly grateful for the intervention.
Bezucha plays plenty of scenes in quiet rooms. Costner towers in those moments and gets a few touching encounters with a young Native American (Booboo Stewart) who knows plenty about the Dakota Ewings.
Because it’s set in contemporary times, “Let Him Go” doesn’t have the connectivity it needs. Bezucha should have given us touchstones (politics would have provided instant shorthand) and a little more honesty about the world they’re in. As spotlight-grabbing as she is, Manville would have been better as a woman who blends into her community, not one who blows all the whistles.
“Let Him Go” is a fine vehicle for its stars. Often, though, it’s not quite sure what gear it's using.