Thomas Bezucha’s Let Him Go

Before I start this review can I just say what a gorgeous, adorable couple Kevin Costner and Diane Lane make? They played one once before in Man Of Steel but the movie wasn’t quite centred on them, however in sweeping American gothic drama-thriller Let Him Go they are front and centre as a husband and wife fighting desperately for what’s theirs in early 1960’s Montana, and they are both every inch the movie stars we’ve come to know and love. This film could have easily gone the direct, glossy genre route and given us something that looked pretty, serviced the audience but didn’t provide much depth beyond surface level. Somewhat newbie director Thomas Bezucha (this is only his third feature in a decade) works from a novel by Larry Watson to give us a rich, stirring, full blooded story of two loving grandparents who refuse to go gentle into that good night, and the film won me over big time. They are George and Margaret Blackledge, loving parents and grandparents until their son passes away in a terrible accident, and his widow marries a no good dirtbag who absconds with her and the grandson with nary a word of farewell. It turns out this brat comes from an entire family of no good dirtbags just like him called the Weboys, presided over by tyrannical matriarchal bitch Blanche Weboy, played by Lesley Manville who sinks her fangs in for the kind of cape twirling, rotten bastard villain turn that would make Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge cower. She has all of her claws in all of her sons, and soon too the grandson that doesn’t belong to her. So George and Margaret make the journey from Montana into chilly North Dakota to first reason with, then engage in bitter conflict against this maladjusted clan. Costner is gruff, curt and reserved as George but he has always been very skilled at saying a lot without using his words, letting a glance, a shift of weight or gesture speak tomes, and he employs that here to full effect. Lane is the maternal heart, soul and driving force of the film, showing unbreakable determination, resilience and love in the face of belligerent evil. They’re both superb, but what makes the film ultimately so effective is how well they work *together.* There are two scenes that stand out to me as key lynchpins of both their relationship and the narrative: before they leave their ranch to find the grandson, they visit a family grave plot to see their son. Margaret seems upset and says she’d rather not be there because it’s filled with people she’s lost. George says with clenched melancholy “Maybe that’s what life becomes after awhile, just a bunch of people we’ve lost.” This is important in establishing them as individuals and as a couple. Later in North Dakota they get dressed up and go to dinner together, discuss life, death and share a memory in which Margaret whispers words of comfort to her horse who has to be put down. This is a script that means business and doesn’t just exist as framework for thrills, although there are plenty, this is one of the most tense, high stakes, intense stories I’ve seen in awhile. The film has uncommon depth and character development for a film of its type, and what really keeps the wind in the sails is Costner and Lane, their dialogue, romance, determination and love for one another, the grandson they’re fighting so hard to save and the life they’re trying to salvage, together, from the throes of tragedy. I miss when we’d go to the movies to see two honest to god stars like this in a simple, elegant, down to earth but very moving drama. One of the strongest films this year.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Lone Hero

Lou Diamond Phillips is an actor who’s never really impressed me much, except for this one. Lone Hero sees him headline a low key action B flick and steal the show as Bart, a nasty biker gang chief who rolls into a tiny Montana town with his boys, looking for nothing but violence and trouble. Here’s the cool thing about his performance: while many actors who have played evil bikers tried out the straight up savage, hotheaded route (which admittedly works if done right), Lou switches it up and plays the guy as a calm, free spirited scoundrel who although is an indefensibly scummy fellow, does it with a gleam in his eye and smile on his face. That’s a courageous choice for a villain role of this ilk, but it’s a great fit for him and his best work I’ve seen. Because this town oddly doesn’t seem to have any cops let alone a local Sheriff, it’s up to a few plucky locals to fight off the biker menace and take back their town. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a guy who isn’t necessarily a western cowboy hero, but plays one in a local tourist attraction and therefore must step up to the plate, and in a place as bereft of law enforcement as this burg, that’s what they’ll have to settle for. He’s joined by the great Robert Forster as an ageing frontier man who grabs his trusty rifle and starts blasting bikers all to hell alongside Flanery when things get rough. This is TV movie territory and nothing of consequence really jumps out at you, but the three actors make it a damn good little show, the banter between the them is genuinely fun stuff and acted well by all. Oh and like I said, Phillips makes it a Diamond of a performance, a true scene stealing villain in the spiritual energy of someone like Robert Downey Jr, I’d love to hear if anyone can think of a role he’s been better in. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill



Sweetgrass is one of the most beguiling documentaries I’ve ever encountered, a piece of visual anthropology that I can’t compare to anything else. It’s a piece of work that will likely alienate most viewers, but for those with patience and an interest in spare, direct storytelling, this exploration of sheep herders in the Montana wilderness will leave a major impression. While capturing the rituals of the shepherds as they herded their livestock through the Beartooth Mountains, the filmmakers covered stunning landscapes, and braved dangerous weather and the threat of various wild animals, including bears and wolves. As the shepherds make their journey, the film depicts the hardships that they face in their age-old occupation, which seems largely outdated in 21st century America. The film is from the husband and wife filmmaking team of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash, who also created the strangely haunting fishing trawler documentary Leviathan, so if you’ve seen that film, you’ll know what to expect from Sweetgrass. No dialogue, no pandering, no overt messages or speechifying; what you see is what you get.

My thing with cinema is this: TAKE ME SOMEWHERE I’VE NEVER BEEN. Well…I’ve never herded thousands of sheep through rocky and treacherous terrain, and I likely never will. But this film gives you an astonishing sense of how difficult this job is. Honestly…this documentary is a masterpiece of execution, showcasing simplicity at its finest, and offering up stark majesty on a genuinely grand scale. It’s also, intended or not, a deeply hysterical portrait of potential madness, and while the film takes a harshly unsentimental gaze at the shepherds and their animals, it’s never depressing or degrading. Werner Herzog and Terrence Malick would lose their minds over this piece of work, and I’m sort of shocked that Herzog didn’t get to this material first. Sweetgrass is an amazing deconstruction of the demands of the American cowboy and a stunning revelation into the bonds between human and animal. At various points, the camera literally stares into the souls of some of these animals, and it’s in these quiet moments that the viewer might have a religious experience, especially if they’re an animal lover; I was personally left agog by the entire effort. Sweetgrass is definitely up there with Winged Migration as one of the most fascinating animal documentaries that I’ve come across.