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Let Him Go review – surprisingly comforting western throwback

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane play a couple who set out to rescue their grandson in a highly watchable, old-fashioned thriller

Maybe it's to do with this unpredictable year, but there is something inherently comforting about seeing Kevin Costner in a film in 2020. That might sound slightly odd, since Let Him Go, a neo-western directed by Thomas Bezucha and based on the novel by Larry Watson, is not a comforting film by nature: it's a dark and (eventually) bloody revenge story, about two grandparents (played by Costner and his Man of Steel co-star Diane Lane) who set out to rescue their grandson after he's abducted by the most sinister family this side of Animal Kingdom.

But the presence of this iconic movie star in what is an unashamedly simple tale of good versus evil – one that's willing to take its time and indulge the great American scenery – recalls a more traditionally-minded picture that so very rarely sees the light of day. And there are few surprises up the film's sleeve, too: just when it seems things might be taking too familiar a turn, Let Him Go swerves off-road into more unexpected territory.

This is the sort of film whose story you could transpose a hundred years in the past and it would still make complete sense. In fact, it would probably make more sense, given its tale of dusty roads and dead-end towns leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air (namely: how would anyone get away with what happens here?). No matter: the fact that it's set in the 1960s means you're more likely to forgive the film when it paves over the logical lapses. This is a western, so western rules apply.

Costner appears here as retired sheriff George Blackledge with Clint Eastwood levels of stoicism – voice gravelly than ever, brow more furrowed than before (Eastwood could have easily played this part ten years ago – or directed this film). Lane, meanwhile, proves yet again that she's a magnetic – and undervalued – screen presence as George's wife, Margaret, who is perhaps really the lead of the film. Together the pair share an easy, lived-in chemistry – essential to convincing us of their love for one another, but also that they'd go to such lengths as to do what they do here.

After the unexpected death of their son, who leaves behind his own young son, Jimmy, the couple's daughter-in-law, Lorna – played by Kayli Carter – remarries a less than savoury member of the infamous Weboy clan. When the three disappear from town without a word, though, Margaret is having none of it, and so the Blackledges hit the road (George is less convinced, but he still goes), station wagon positioned like a horse in a western, to track down Lorna and Jimmy.

Their journey eventually brings them to a rickety old house in North Dakota, where Leslie Manville turns up in domineering matriarch mode, locking horns with Lane (others have praised Manville's turn as mildly revelatory, but she seemed more cartoonish to me – though it's still an effective, watchable performance). The tension hits a breaking point here, anyway, as the two clans are positioned against one another – first in an agonising dinner scene, and later during an affront in a motel that will have you clenching your teeth with rage. It takes a while for the movie to find a place of real confrontation, but it's arguably more satisfying as a result – especially since, as is often the case with films made in this vein, all roads lead to fire and blood.

Let Him Go is by no means perfect. It's uneven, in places, the villains are pretty one-dimensional, and the story seems sillier the more you think about it. But I sat and watched, gripped by the performances and the increasing stakes, thankful for something entirely competent that reminded me that sometimes all a movie needs to do is make you feel like it's in control. Saddle up.

Let Him Go is now showing in select cinemas.

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