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Film / Let Him Go

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Fight For Family.

Let Him Go is the 2020 film adaptation of the 2013 novella by Larry Watson, directed by Thomas Bezucha and starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as a retired couple who make a cross-state trip to find their grandson.

In 1961, retired sheriff George Blackledge (Costner) and his wife, Margaret (Lane), suffer a devastating loss when their son, James (Ryan Bruce) dies during a freak horse-riding accident, leaving behind a widow, Lorna Blackledge (Kayli Carter) and their infant son, Jimmy.

Three years later, Lorna marries Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), a vindictive, violent man who Margaret witnesses hitting his wife and Jimmy during an incident at a supermarket. Suspecting that he's up to no good, Margaret attempts to defuse the situation — only to discover that Donnie has moved the trio to his family home in North Dakota without telling the Blackledges. Realizing that Lorna and Jimmy may be in danger, Margaret and George set out to cross into the state and rescue the pair, meeting a young Native American man (Booboo Stewart) along the way — but come into contact with the rest of Donnie's family, the Weboy clan, including Evil Matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville) and her brother-in-law, Bill Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan).

The film takes cues from other Gothic Horror works, with Calgary, Alberta standing in for the hills and valleys of Montana and North Dakota.

The film was originally scheduled to be released in August 2020, but was delayed until November of the same year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The '60s: The film is set in 1961 (a change from the novella, which is set in 1953), and features period-appropriate decor, vehicles and towns.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • Several geographical aspects of the plot were changed for the film, with the couple's final destination being Gladstone, North Dakota (setting out from Montana) instead of the reverse in the novel, which saw the couple depart from North Dakota and head towards Bentrock, Montana.
    • The novel clarifies that George has always had a drinking problem, dating long back to his days as a sheriff, and later shows that George spends his time doing odd jobs for other people. In the film, George is hinted to have started drinking out of remorse after James' death, and his post-law enforcement career largely revolves around horse rearing.
    • Margaret and Lorna's relationship is far more antagonistic in the novel, with it being suggested that Lorna Really Gets Around and shacked up with Donnie because All Girls Want Bad Boys, and prompting Margaret to treat her departure with him as a good thing... were it not for the fact that Jimmy is still with them. Margaret is far nicer to Lorna in the film, and though Lorna admits that they "never really got along," they are able to put aside their differences by the time they have lunch together in Gladstone.
  • Adapted Out: Janie, the Blackledge's estranged daughter in the novel (and James' twin), is nowhere to be found in the film, and it is repeatedly stated that Jimmy is the only link to the Blackledge's potential future and legacy.
  • Affably Evil: While Donnie doesn't even attempt to carry a veneer of pleasantry during his marriage ceremony to Lorna, and Marvin and Elton are little more than Dumb Muscle, both Bill and Blanche Weboy (brother and sister in law) carry smiles in public, but can turn violent on a dime.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Downplayed - Bill Weboy reacts with horror and revulsion when Donnie chops off George's fingers at Blanche's behest. In the climax of the film, as the Weboy homestead burns, he briefly struggles with George over the shotgun before trying to talk Blanche (who is wielding George's revolver and pointing it at them) down — only to be shot in the head by her.
    • Similarly downplayed for Blanche, who is clearly devastated from losing her family and home to George, but still even more despicable a human being than Bill that fatally wounds George in response.
  • The Alcoholic: Downplayed — George has taken to drinking after James' death, but doesn't make a show of it, save for one scene where he buys a half-pint of whiskey and swigs it on the street at the first pit stop in the couple's journey to Gladstone.
  • Animal Motif: Horses, which actually spearhead several incidents of the plot:
    • The entire chain of events that kicks off the film begins with James Blackledge dying due to a freak riding accident, just after he's spent time rearing the horse with his father.
    • The family horse, Strawberry, is spoken of admiringly by both Margaret and George, and a key piece of Foreshadowing involves the words she said to her before he was forced to Mercy Kill her.
    • Peter's horse, who he found one day in the desert outside his house and is a wandering soul like him.
  • Asshole Victim: After spending the film antagonizing other characters, the entire Weboy family gets this, courtesy of George (and at the end, Margaret). Donnie is beaten up and knocked out with the butt of his family's own shotgun after he beats Lorna, courtesy of George, and is left to die in the burning family homestead. Marvin and Elton are shot down by George, using the revolver Blanche took from him, as they attempt to rush the pair during a struggle. Bill gets shot by Blanche, with the same revolver, during a struggle. Finally, Blanche gets shot in the chest by Margaret after the former kills George.
  • Bittersweet Ending: George, with some late-stage help from Margaret and Peter, manages to rescue Lorna and Jimmy from the Weboy homestead, though not before being mortally injured by Blanche, who Margaret subsequently shoots and kills. The film ends with Peter leaving to go back to his life of solitude while Margaret, Lorna and Jimmy drive back to the Blackledge farm, unsure of what their future holds.
  • Bullying a Dragon: While Blanche and the rest of the Weboy clan know that George is a retired sheriff, they clearly don't take him very seriously until he brandishes his service revolver in their faces, and even then, they quickly overwhelm him. It isn't until he takes the fight to their doorstep that they realise antagonising him was a very bad idea, though even then still opt to murder him rather than release Lorna and save their own hides.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Donnie is implied to be this, as Blanche mocks him for his wedding to a widow and his "inability" to keep his bride in line.
    • Conversely, Lorna loses her first husband, remarries a man who verbally and physically abuses both her and her son, and is stolen away to live in another state with a family full of off-grid lunatics who are implied to be Ax-Crazy. During the climax of the film, she is shown having been beaten by Donnie (and sporting a black eye) and gets knocked unconscious briefly after falling down the stairs while George takes on the Weboys.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The service revolver (owned by George) that Margaret stowed for the trip is stashed in the couple's luggage, and later grabbed by George during the confrontation in the hotel room as they're planning to leave. It's later confiscated by Blanche, who uses it to (accidentally) shoot Bill during the climax of the film, at which point George grabs the gun from her and uses it to kill Marvin and Elton.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: After the confrontation in the Gladstone hotel room with the clan, Margaret drives George back to Peter's home near the town limits, who helps them recuperate and plan their next move. After George leaves with the family sedan to rescue Lorna and Jimmy, Peter helps Margaret take a shortcut to the Weboy homestead just in time to aid him during the climax of the film.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Lesley Manville makes every scene count as Blanche Weboy, a character who acts as a cross between Bette Davis circa Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and real-life Evil Matriarch Ma Barker of the Barker clan, and carries her dialogue in reckless, over-the-top fashion.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The Weboys just happen to have a shotgun (with spare ammunition nearby) and a can of gasoline sitting by the front door of their property, which can be pilfered and used by any enterprising soul. George uses both of these to great effect during the climax of the film.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Peter is a young Native American man who was taken from his family as a child to an Indian School, and ran away three years later to live alone in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota. He's wary and very skittish of strangers, as seen by his first meeting with George and Margaret.
    Peter: The government agents came into the house when I was eight. They took me and put me in their truck. You know, I thought I did something wrong and that my mother didn't want me anymore. But then I could see she was crying. All the mothers were.
    Margaret: You were eight?
    Peter: They cut my hair off. And washed me in kerosene. And beat me. To kill the Indian inside. I guess they did. So when I came home, I couldn't understand my grandmother's words anymore.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Invoked by Peter, (who as a Native Indian) presumes that Margaret and George are going to assault him and/steal his property after they catch him looking into their car due to his heritage, only for them to tell him they want no such thing.
  • Defiant to the End: Blanche simply snarls a vitriolic See You in Hell at Margaret when it is obvious she's about to shoot her dead for killing George.
  • Determinator: George becomes this after Margaret admits they failed in their quest to rescue Lorna and Jimmy, and decides to take matters into his own hands...
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • The incident that sets off the plot of the film involves Margaret witnessing Donnie slapping Jimmy (and soon after, Lorna) after the former... dropped his ice cream on the street.
    • The Weboy clan goes after Margaret and George after they unsuccessfully try to get Lorna to flee from the family in the middle of the night with Jimmy. During the ensuing confrontation, Margaret is nearly beaten by multiple members of the family, while George has most of the fingers on one hand chopped off.
  • Downer Beginning: The film begins with a brief look into the happy life of the Blackledges, before George discovers James' horse riding around in a panic and goes to investigate, only to find James' lifeless body by a nearby creek...
  • Due to the Dead: Just before leaving on their journey, George stops to pay his respects at James' grave, located in the family burial plot near the entrance of their ranch.
  • Dumb Muscle: Marvin and Elton Weboy, who have next-to-no dialogue and seemingly only exist to do Blanche's bidding. During the final confrontation, they both go down, one after the other, as they attempt to rush George in the stairway of the Weboy homestead.
  • Final Battle: Between George and the rest of the Weboy clan, in the midst of their burning homestead.
  • Fingore: George has the fingers on his right hand chopped off by Donnie, at Blanche's urging, after George and Margaret attempt to steal Lorna away in the middle of the night.
  • Food Porn: The bundt cake Margaret makes as a housewarming gift for Donnie and Lorna at their new apartment ends up going unused once the latter discovers they've fled the state. She later brings it along for her and George to snack on during the trip towards North Dakota.
  • Foreshadowing: During a quiet dinner, George asks Margaret to tell him about the words she whispered to their trusty horse, Strawberry, just before the former had to perform a Mercy Kill on her. She explains that she told the horse about what a good job she did, and how the family was proud of her. Margaret later does the same thing, for George's benefit, as he dies after Blanche is shot down.
  • Genre Shift: Midway through the film, when the tone shifts from a contemporary drama about a couple travelling the countryside in Montana and North Dakota looking for their grandson, while reflecting on their life and legacy together, to Psychological Horror once they confront the Weboys, and the full depth of the latter's violent nature is revealed.
  • Gilded Cage: Lorna is shown to have found a good job at the Montgomery Ward department store in Gladstone, and (based on the few shots we see of it) a comfortable room in the Weboy household... but she is unable to leave, as the family controls her every move. Also see the entry for I Own This Town.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Subverted, as George's partial amputation via axe is shown in its entirety.
  • Gothic Horror: The last half of the film largely takes place in an off-grid homestead, set in the middle of nowhere, with the leads confronting the Weboy clan. The climax of the film involves George mounting a rescue mission to get Lorna and Jimmy out of the house in the dead of night.
  • Gun Struggle: Between George and different assailants during the final confrontation in the Weboy homestead.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Donnie is shown to explode at Lorna for minor infractions, and slaps both her and Jimmy when the latter drops his ice cream cone outside a supermarket.
  • Handicapped Badass: George, missing the fingers on his hand after Donnie chops them off, goes on a one-man mission to rescue Lorna and Jimmy after recuperating at Peter's house for a day and assaults the Weboy house on his own.
  • Hate Sink: Donnie, who makes it clear from his Establishing Character Moment that he doesn't actually care about the woman he's marrying or her son, and displays a penchant for beating both of them. Even worse, his decision to chop off the fingers on George's hand at Blanche's urging makes him irredeemable, and he suffers a case of Laser-Guided Karma when George knocks him out and leaves him to die during the climax of the film.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: George ultimately succeeds in his mission to rescue Lorna and Jimmy (with help from Margaret and Peter), and takes out the entire Weboy family, though at the cost of his own life. His behaviour during the confrontation alludes to this, as he tells Lorna to take Jimmy and run while he holds off the rest of the family.
  • Hope Spot: Midway through the film, George and Margaret successfully convince Lorna (who they find working at her new job in Gladstone) to run away with Jimmy in the dead of night and flee the Weboys. It doesn't work, and the duo are confronted by the clan, who beat Margaret and chop off the fingers on one of George's hands in retaliation.
  • Hunter Trapper: Peter hunts and traps animals for meat and fur to survive, and the viewer can see a row of fox skins hanging inside his shack.
  • Incendiary Exponent:
    • George lights the outside of the Weboy homestead on fire with a can of gasoline in order to draw away several of the family members so that he can rescue Lorna and Jimmy.
  • I Own This Town: Blanche makes it clear that the Weboy clan runs Gladstone, to such an extent that they have eyewitnesses who saw George and Margaret talking to Lorna at a local diner, have The Sheriff in their back pocket, and know the staff at the local motel well enough that they got the key to George and Margaret's room.
  • Ironic Echo: "Don't start what you can't finish." Originally said by George to Margaret during a tender scene in a hotel room in Gladstone, it carries a Double-Meaning Title, as George has unsuccessfully tried to sway Margaret from pursuing Lorna and Jimmy, but realizes she won't give up and comes along for the ride. At the end of the film, Margaret "finishes" off Blanche, the sole remaining member of the Weboy clan, by shooting her in the chest after she mortally wounds George.
  • I Will Find You: Margaret and George, looking for Lorna and Jimmy.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The sheriff in Gladstone who antagonizes and subtly threatens the Blackledge's to stay away from the Weboy's (not to mention the part where he even rebuffs them regarding the incident) may have been imposing, but he does accurately sum up the situation — a retired couple, one of which is a sheriff wielding a service revolver that hasn't been in use for years, has crossed state lines to bring a mother and her child back from a homestead full of brothers much younger and stronger than the duo combined.
  • Karma Houdini: The crooked cop who antagonizes George and Margaret over their actions against the Weboys seemingly gets off scot-free for his actions and he is also seemingly not aware of how badly Lorna and Jimmy are mistreated by the Weboy gang, though it is implied that Lorna and/or Margaret may have called him afterwards to reveal what happened to the clan.
  • Killed Offscreen: Donnie ends up burning to death in the Weboy homestead, after being knocked out by George at the beginning of the final confrontation.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Occurs to both groups by the end of the film.
    • George and Margaret manage to convince Lorna to take Jimmy and flee from the Weboy household in the middle of the night. The Weboys catch Lorna, beat her and confront Margaret and George, chopping off the fingers on one of his hands immediately afterwards in retaliation, before sending Gladstone's sheriff over to the hospital to antagonize them further.
    • Donnie (and by extension, the rest of the Weboys) get this when George mounts a one-man rescue mission to get Lorna and Jimmy out of the household. The family members are dispatched in numerous ways, and while George himself dies during the confrontation, the family and their homestead are completely wiped out.
  • Last Stand: George invokes this in the climax, when he tells Lorna to grab Jimmy and run while he holds off the Weboys in the now-burning homestead.
  • Lethally Stupid: As Bill attempts to take Jimmy back from George, a panicking Blanche enters with a gun. Despite Bill's desperate orders not to shoot, she assures him she's got this...and shoots Bill dead.
  • Like a Daughter to Me: Defied. Despite her attempts to ingratiate herself with Lorna, the latter admits that they never got along well and Margaret never seemed to treat her with the same respect after James died. The "What Now?" Ending implies that both women will repair their relationship as they drive back to Montana.
  • Made of Iron: George is shown to have an exceptionally-high pain tolerance, as evidenced in the scene when he orders the doctors to keep him awake while they suture the stumps of the fingers on his hand after they're chopped off by Donnie. He later tanks multiple gunshots during his quest to save Lorna and Jimmy during the climax.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The entire Weboy clan gets this once they realize (a) their homestead is on fire, (b) Donnie is nowhere to be seen, and (c) a very pissed-off George is wielding a shotgun.
  • Meaningful Name: The Weboys (pronounced wee-boys) are a clan of thuggish off-grid men who still live in the same family homestead owned by the Evil Matriarch, Blanche Weboy, and have a reputation that carries far beyond Gladstone.
  • Mistaken for Thief: How George and Margaret meet Peter, who was looking into their car to see who was camping so far out from anywhere, but it's quickly resolved.
  • Momma's Boy: The Weboy clan, who follow the urging of their mother, Blanche, frequently dive into this. Bill Weboy, Blanche's brother-in-law, is the only one shown to have his own home and lifestyle, though during the last act of the film, he appears to have moved back into the family homestead, while Elton and Marvin act as Dumb Muscle who barely utter a word and restrain other characters.
  • Mood Whiplash: Up until the halfway point of the film, the plot sets up an exploration of one couple's dynamics, and their remorse over the death of their son three years earlier, as they travel across the state looking for their grandson and daughter-in-law. With the exception of a pair of slightly-sinister confrontations with various individuals, the majority of scenes focus on calm conversations between multiple characters, coupled with Scenery Porn of Montana and North Dakota. All that changes once the Weboys confront the Blackledge's in the Gladstone hotel room.
  • Moral Myopia: By the end of the showdown, Blanche, beaten down and her family killed, can only scream "Why?" repeatedly at George after fatally shooting him, as if she cannot possibly understand what vendetta a man whose family were stole and abused by her kin, before she sadistically had his hand mutilated, could possibly have against her. Compounded by the fact most of her family's deaths were less the direct fault of George but more her own Lethally Stupid attempts at killing him.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Coupled with Darkest Hour, Margaret lapses into this once she sees the damage her quest has caused — the pair have been unceremoniously ordered to leave Gladstone, with George's injuries being chalked up as an "accident" by the local sheriff, George has now permanently lost most of the fingers on one hand, and Lorna has most likely been beaten after her attempt to flee the family.
  • Native Guide: Peter tells George and Margaret about how to find the Weboys, and later takes Margaret on the fastest route to the Weboy house on horseback.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers for the film sell it as a tale of revenge and action, with clips from the movie showing Costner and Lane's characters shooting weapons, talking about "never starting what you can't finish" and getting into fights with the Weboy clan. The actual film is a languid Western-style tale of travel and reconnection between a couple who've lost their son, and though there is psychological terror and violence, it is mainly limited to the last reel of the film.
  • Noodle Incident: Despite being retired from police work for more than a decade, the cops the couple encounter during their first pit stop regard him with admiration, as he worked with a fellow sheriff to apprehend a pair of brothers who were extremely violent. The exact details are never mentioned, but a deputy clerk is awed by George's presence (despite his attempts to downplay the situation) and offers them free room and board in the local jail.
  • Not Quite Dead: Blanche shows up again, after having been wounded and seemingly killed as the Weboy homestead burns, to gun down George just before he escapes. Margaret responds by shooting her through the chest.
  • Obviously Evil: The Weboy clan, which multiple characters and the plot make very clear (via Donnie and Bill) that they are an irredeemable, evil family.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: James' freak accident and death in the opening sequence sets off a long chain of events that permanently impacts the Blackledge family.
  • The Quiet One: Peter, who prefers to answer questions he doesn't want to answer with silence, as a part of his wary, skittish nature. He opens up a little to Margaret on their second meeting though.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: George after being mutilated by the Weboys sets fire to their house, beats up and knocks out Donnie as he abuses Lorna again, and then after rescuing her and Jimmy, throws a showdown which wipes out the entire Weboy family. Only Blanche survives and returns the favour by fatally shooting him, with Margaret finishing her off in response.
  • Sacred Hospitality: George and Margaret's first meeting with Blanche, who offers them food and drink before they cut to the chase and ask to see Jimmy. What follows is a tense meeting before the clan allows George and Margaret to leave peacefully.
  • Sanity Slippage: Once it becomes clear that she's lost everything, Blanche absolutely loses it, screaming and shouting at George (before shooting him) and spending time ranting at Margaret (who shoots her).
  • Scenery Porn: The film takes a long time setting up the hills and vistas of Montana and North Dakota (Alberta, Canada stands in for these locations), with drawn-out shots of vehicles driving down empty roads in wide vistas.
  • See You in Hell: Blanche can only snarl an indignant "Oh, you go to hell!-" before Margaret shoots her dead.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: James' death influences the whole plot, setting off a chain of events that sees George driven to drinking during the intervening Time Skip, and later agreeing to join Margaret on her quest to bring Jimmy back due to his remorse over failing to save their son.
  • Stress Vomit: George vomits on the car ride out of Gladstone towards the end of the film, due in part from the injuries he sustained during the confrontation with the Weboys.
  • Tempting Fate: George tries, unsuccessfully, multiple times to sway Margaret from her quest to find and bring back Jimmy, being well aware of what kind of a reputation the Weboys carry and doing everything he can to avoid. He eventually reverses his stance and jumps back into his previous "sheriff" mode once the pair has been driven to their mental and physical breaking point.
  • Time Skip: After the opening sequence (where James dies), the plot jumps forward three years so that Jimmy can be slightly older.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • The official poster and trailer for the film shows Lorna (holding Jimmy in her arms) fleeing a burning household in the middle of nowhere, making it abundantly clear what's going to happen to the Weboy homestead the moment it comes up on screen.
    • The official trailer also shows brief shots of Margaret entering the front door of a house and looking on in shock, Blanche Weboy holding George's service revolver while screaming at someone, and Margaret whipping around with a shotgun in her hands before firing, spoiling the climactic moment of the film.
  • Trash the Set: The Weboy household burns down after George lights it on fire during his rescue of Lorna and Jimmy. Margaret, Peter, Lorna and Jimmy stop to watch the foundations of the house collapse before leaving at the end of the film.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Despite chopping the fingers on one hand off and sending a sheriff to antagonize him, the Weboys really didn't expect George to start a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against them. Nor did Gladstone's sheriff, who all but ordered the pair to stay out of the town and go back home. By the end of the film, George has shot and/or indirectly killed the entirety of the clan, with Margaret getting the Coup de GrĂ¢ce on Blanche as he dies.
  • Walking the Earth: As befits a neo-Western, Peter is a Native American man who escaped Indian school and now lives off the land in North Dakota, with his only contacts being his aunt and uncle who sell the furs he traps.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: James Blackledge is only seen for a brief time in the opening sequence before he dies due to an (off-screen) riding accident, with the rest of his screentime being limited to a handful of flashbacks as a boy.
  • Wham Shot: All pretenses of the tone of the first half of the film go out the door once the camera averts a Gory Discretion Shot by showing George getting the fingers on his right hand (with the exception of his thumb) lopped off by Donnie, in full detail.
  • What Does She See in Him?: It's implied that Lorna married Donnie Weboy out of desperation three years after James' death so that he could help her take care of Jimmy. Their wedding ceremony shows him practically reeling in response to her going in for a kiss.