The first two acts of “Let Him Go” should meet the final act sometime. Maybe go get a drink, get to know each other a bit.
Anyone watching the Diane Lane/Kevin Costner film will eyeball how different the two parts are. No, it’s not a matter of action, drama, or intensity. Many movies start quietly before building to something tense and uncertain.
Here’s a film dedicated to character development, tone, and relationships until it throws all of the above out the proverbial window.
Lane and Costner star as Margaret and George, a married couple who lost their adult son to a riding accident. The death is choreographed with the appropriate solemnity, but the messaging is clear. This couple is in mourning and likely will stay so for the rest of their lives.
They’re dedicated to their grandson, Jimmy, left fatherless by the accident until their daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) finds a new beau, Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain). Only George can’t quite look Donnie square in the eye. Something is off, one of many early details delivered with a masterly touch.
Soon, Lorna vanishes sans trace and the couple sets out to find her and their beloved Jimmy. Enter the Weboy clan, direct from Central Casting. They’re a tight-knit group, a clan whose colorful last name is known far beyond the town limits.
And not for any good reason.
The nanosecond the Weboys make their appearance, “Let Him Go” throws up its hands at any type of nuanced storytelling. That’s all right, initially, since the film already did the dirty character study work and can build from there. It’s still disconcerting how … predictable the Weboys prove, down to their steely-eyed matriarch (Lesley Manville). She’s a brassy dame who can’t stop prattling on about her signature pork chops.
Her charm offensive has its limits, of course.
We see the third act coming a mile away, and film fans can forgive a drama hungry for a pulpy turn. Still, what director/co-writer Thomas Bezucha unveils proves clumsy, ill-thought out, and wildly out of sync with everything preceding it.
Where did the marvelous marriage touches go, like George complaining that a diner’s pot roast can’t compare to his wife’s version? This is a lived-in couple, given layers of warmth and familiarity by Lane and Costner.
Some TV shows take episode after episode to develop the bond they produce in just minutes.
Why waste fellow Weboy Jeffrey Donovan, so menacing in “Fargo’s” second season, or give Manville such a cliched role? It’s like the actress watched Margo Martindale’s stunning work on “Justified” and the director said, “do something like that, but less interesting.”
Most importantly, what makes the Weboys tick? Why should we fear them?
An unexpected encounter mid-film delivers some clumsy foreshadowing, and a prototypical crooked cop sputters such drivel you’d think even a cartoon villain would be ashamed to speak it.
It’s rare to see two older actors get meaty roles like the ones Lane and Costner nail in “Let Him Go.” It’s increasingly common, though, for films to tack on absurd endings, the kind that turbocharge a trailer but do little to bring the story home.
HIT or Miss: “Let Him Go” is two wildly different movies in one, and only the first is worth your while.
A version of this article appears on HollywoodInToto.com