You never know what Diane Lane you’re gonna get.
Will it be the reckless risk-taker in “Unfaithful” or the serene romantic of “Under the Tuscan Sun”? How about a “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” to throw us off the scent even more? Well, in “Let Him Go,” you get her signature beauty, brawn — and barbarity. Lane plays a Midwestern grandma who will do anything — anything — to get back her grandson.
The film doesn’t start out so ruthless. After Margaret (Lane) and George’s (Kevin Costner) son dies from falling off a horse, leaving behind his young wife, Lorna (Kayli Carter), and newborn son, the movie falls into a therapeutic trance. Having lost the one she loved the most, Lane hovers around her small Montana town, expressionless and concealing her pain. “Let Him Go,” you figure, must refer to moving on from the memory of her perfect kid.
Not so fast. Margaret snaps out of it when she witnesses Lorna’s sleazebag new husband, Donnie (Will Brittain), hit her and the boy. And then he secretly hightails it to his family’s home in the Dakota Badlands without so much as a Post-it note on the fridge. Furious, Margaret packs up the car, including a gun, and she and George set out on a rescue mission.
The beginning of the film, which has shades of “Deliverance,” brings on some skepticism. It has the tone of a revenge thriller — but revenge for what, exactly? Corporal punishment on a 1940s Midwestern farm doesn’t seem that out of bounds. And then we meet Blanche.
Donnie’s mom (Lesley Manville), the big-mouthed matriarch of the Weboy family, is a cackling devil in the tradition of Eugene O’Neill or Violet Weston in “August: Osage County.” She takes perverse sadism in cruelty and believes that violence — often the torture sort — is a cure-all.
Lane and Costner are swell, but the film jolts to life the second we walk into Blanche’s dimly lit kitchen, occupied by even dimmer men. The villainous Manville acts like a rooster, clucking, crowing and, worst of all, pecking. A sickening scene in a motel won’t have you taking the kids to South Dakota anytime soon.
Director Thomas Bezucha has a knack for tight-knit clans. He directed the 2005 Christmas film “The Family Stone,” which also involved an outsider (Sarah Jessica Parker) trying to infiltrate a hostile home. That hostility, however, did not involve bullets or axes — only mean future in-laws. This is, by far, the director’s tensest and most brutal movie ever, and he’s a natural. Exorcising some inner demons, perhaps.
I did have an issue with the ending, riveting though it is. The movie is based on Larry Watson’s popular novel “Let Him Go,” and probably in its 256 pages, more light is shed on this disturbing situation. The finale, which is ripped from Rambo’s sweetest dreams, is quite extreme given the circumstances. I’d sooner head to the governor’s mansion in Helena, Montana, than go full vigilante like Costner.
All that aside, it’s a gripping thriller that confirms every doted-on grandchild’s closely held suspicion: Grandma not only makes the world’s best pancakes — she’ll kill for you, too.
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