Kevin Costner and Diane Lane star as George and Margaret Blackledge, an older couple who are coping with a sudden tragedy. When their eldest son dies, their widowed daughter-in-law remarries an abusive lout, who unexpectedly moves her and his young stepson out of state. Ma and Pa Blackledge, who have an extreme affection for their grandson, go on a road trip to find the missing family. Their plan is to take their grandson back with them and give him a better life than the one he currently faces.
Pacing is everything for a movie like this and it’s this aspect where “Let It Go” is a disaster. While the story hits the expected beats (the search for the family, the planned escape, etc.), there are numerous interludes that halt the narrative to a complete stop. We get the extended intro of a Native American character who is meant as an emotional stand-in for the grandson (the film suggests this is what the boy will grow up to be- morose and alone). We pause so that the Blackledge couple can have a sleepover in a cozy prison cell (!), as opposed to a nearby inn. Then there’s an inexplicable sequence where, after setting up a potentially suspenseful bit where we wait for a rescue, we go on a cutesy dinner date with Costner and Lane. Every time these sentimental, overlong scenes pop up, they not only diffuse the edge of the story but tonally feel like bits from another movie.
The 113-minute running time is reasonable, though a tighter, far better work could have resulted with an edit that eliminated the needless padding. We don’t need scenes of the Ma and Pa Blackledge bonding, as the actors and the establishing scenes already tell us how these two share a lived-in bond.
What makes the main protagonists likable is that they’re played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. Otherwise, these folksy, invasive old coots are insufferable. The rest of the cast doesn’t have it any better- everyone is defined by a single character trait and that’s it. For a film based on a book, there’s no depth to either the story or the individuals inhabiting it.
Costner is playing one note the entire movie, never even raising his voice when his character undergoes a traumatic moment. In fact, he raises his voice only once, to finally tell Lane how annoying she’s been (I know how he felt). Considering how Grandpa Blackledge is depicted as silent and stoic, I wonder if Sylvester Stallone would have been a better choice for the part.
Lesley Manville’s ferocious, movie-stealing performance as the evil matriarch of the lawless Weboy clan, is enough to build intrigue in the second half; an extended dinner scene is the film at its best, even as its ugly and overstays its welcome. Much of “Let Him Go” is like that, as scenes that are sentimental and schmaltzy are followed by truly nasty scenes of violence and pulp. As a neo-western, it lacks grandeur, consistent suspense or any thought to the moral compromise taking place. The decision to avenge the Weboy’s, for example, is a given but there’s little build-up or consideration to the moral implications; Pa Blackledge suddenly takes off and the movie sprints to its big finale.
Director Thomas Bezucha, who also wrote the screenplay (based on Larry Watson’s novel), is out of his element. His prior films were the crowd-pleasing Christmas dramedy “The Family Stone” and the Selena Gomez vehicle, “Monte Carlo.” Bezucha sets up the period details (though he fails to properly tell us exactly what year the story takes place), has a few good scenes in his arsenal and two movie star leads with decades of goodwill behind them. None of this is enough to elevate the predictable material. “Let It Go” wants to be a Sam Peckinpaugh movie with a Jim Thompson story but constantly goes soft and winds up playing like the most violent movie ever made for The Hallmark Channel.