▶︎ Let Him Go is in UK cinemas.

In Thomas Bezucha’s second film as writer-director, The Family Stone (2005), a young woman played by Sarah Jessica Parker finds she’s marrying into altogether the wrong kind of family. That one played out as screwball comedy. Bezucha’s fourth film, Let Him Go, adapted from a novel by North Dakota writer Larry Watson, latches on to something of the same idea but reconceives it as raw, hard-hitting melodrama.

It’s the battle of two matriarchs. Margaret (Diane Lane) is the respectable, caring grandmother, devoted to her late son’s infant boy – though her controlling side’s in evidence in her treatment of her meek daughter-in-law Lorna. That’s nothing, though, compared to Lesley Manville’s fearsome Blanche, who dominates her otherwise all-male white-trash Weboy clan with smiling venom – and a well-honed north-west US accent. The tribal clash between the two women builds up, through a confrontational dinner-table encounter where social discomfort’s at the max, to two impactful if all-too-predictable scenes of ruthless violence.

Diane Lane as Margaret with Kevin Costner as George in Let Him Go

“You don’t know when it’s time to call quits,” Margaret’s ex-sheriff husband George (Kevin Costner) tells her. The relationship between the two (Costner and Lane previously played a couple as Superman’s adoptive parents in the downbeat 2013 Man of Steel) feels convincingly lived-through, with George long resigned to going along with his stronger-willed partner’s agenda. But apart from these two, the termagant Blanche, and Peter (Booboo Stewart, The Twilight Saga), the lonely Native American who befriends the couple on their quest for their grandson, the rest of the film’s characters are left largely one-dimensional. This leaves a crucial gap as regards Lorna (Kayli Carter), the widowed daughter-in-law; there’s never a hint how or why she might have hooked up with charmless scuzzbag Donnie Weboy.

Still, Bezucha builds up an effective head of tension, with Michael Giacchino’s elegiac guitar-and-strings score providing a reflective counterpoint and chiming with DP Guy Godfree’s atmospheric evocation of the windswept Dakota/Montana badlands (though in fact the film was shot in Alberta). Let Him Go plays out following well-trodden paths, but along the way the scenery – both visual and dramatic – holds the attention.

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