Let Him Go movie review & film summary (2020)

Determined to rescue her only grandson and the last connection to her only child, Margaret quickly jumps into action. That means whipping up a delicious frosted lemon cake and flashing her warmest smile. Lane is dazzling as she turns on the charm, knowing exactly how charismatic she needs to be in every situation to get what she wants. Costner, by contrast, is stoic and circumspect—a posture he could achieve in his sleep, but he imbues the role with an undercurrent of melancholy. There’s also the matter of George’s drinking, which “Let Him Go” introduces as a defining character trait without overdramatizing it in a cliched manner.

But as the couple ventures into North Dakota to track down Jimmy at the Weboy family’s remote compound, they discover they’ll have to contend with another tough-as-nails woman who also knows how to manipulate people with the help of home cooking. Pork chops are the weapon of choice for Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville), the steely matriarch of a generations-old mob family. All red nails, cigarettes and toying, loud laughs, Manville tears it up in this showy role—so much so that it almost feels like she sauntered in from a totally different movie. It’s fascinating to watch but also a little jarring. As deliciously withering as she was in “Phantom Thread,” she’s deliriously over-the-top here.

As her brother, Bill, Jeffrey Donovan finds a more understated tone to his menace, most notably in a tense sequence when he drives George and Margaret out the isolated Weboy homestead. They don’t know what they’re in for, but they know it’s no good. Along the way, the couple also encounters a young Native American loner (Booboo Stewart) who conveniently shows up to provide geographical and spiritual guidance. He’s more of a concept that an actual human being.  

What makes Blanche and Margaret so fearsome in their own ways, though, is that they’re both survivors. And they draw on that fierce, mama-bear instinct as the film reaches its fiery conclusion. Neither of them is willing to let anything or anyone go, and that essential character work keeps us hanging on even as the narrative runs wild.

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