Production of “Let Him Go” finished just days before the United States went into lockdown and work across the film industry halted. The timing would have been a welcome stroke of luck for any director, and for Thomas Bezucha, it meant the ability to follow “Let Him Go” to a hearty conclusion without any derailing pandemic surprises.
Unhindered by the now raging pandemic, “Let Him Go” is more or less the modern Midwestern thriller Bezucha laid out in production, even with its missteps.
“What appealed to me about the piece as a whole was that … the story is the thriller. It is the search for this child and then the fight to get him back,” Bezucha said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “But what really appealed to me was the opportunity to paint this portrait of a marriage, of a long marriage, and, you know, this couple that is sort of both divided and united at the same time in their grief for the loss of their son. And that was just, that was moving to me.”
Viewers get a close-up of a family racked with grief teetering on the brink, walking a thin line between irrational attachment and rational fear. There’s no pretense for a happy ending, simply an infallible marriage. Bezucha made a point of writing a gritty script, not a lovey-dovey dreamscape. And for Bezucha, there was no better setting to bring the intersection of marriage and loss to life than Montana.
“I don’t know what Montana means to me, but I really love Montana. … It’s our American mythology, and it’s the landscape of that mythology, and it has a great appeal to me,” Bezucha said. “And through the decency of the people out there, I really responded to the Margaret and George characters on that level.”
While the characters of Margaret and George were Bezucha’s project, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner made it their mission to bring the partners to life. Their experience — Bezucha noted “they’ve been around the track a couple times” — is evident, “Let Him Go” being their second time sharing the screen as a Midwestern couple after 2013’s “Man of Steel.”
The duo becomes synonymous with a mix of despair and tenderness over the course of the film, unrestrained by the shackles of shallow writing in “Man of Steel.” Where they were once limited, Bezucha sets an in-the-moment pace with space for the pair to fill the screen and show off a little.
“It was important to me, in the writing of it and in the movie, that the audience is never too far ahead of Margaret and George — that we sort of learn things as they do,” Bezucha said. “George isn’t naive, but I always thought of (the Blackledges) as people of good faith who don’t understand that they have passed the point of return until it’s too late.”
And yet, Bezucha ran into a wall with the film’s characters. George in particular speaks in short bursts, and reconciling his restricted cadence with the unrestricted flow of the script proved its own battle.
“They don’t talk a lot,” Bezucha said. “And so really figuring out what those exact words were was a challenge, but also the fun of it.”
To compensate for George’s reservation, Bezucha wove George’s deep care for family somewhat indirectly. His love feeds his furious opening salvo on his quest to reclaim his grandson, Jimmy. Just before George speeds to the rescue, Bezucha gives us a touching flashback to George and Jimmy playing with shaving cream.
“There was a picture I pulled up (online) of father and son,” Bezucha said, “like a 2-year-old, and the father teaching the kid how to shave. And so that became a scene in the movie, just because I found some random picture.”
While George struggles to find the right words, Margaret compels you to stay invested. In Bezucha’s case, Margaret became a way to indirectly convey George’s own ideas. Around her, George is as motivated to open up as viewers are to keep watching, making for snippets into not just the workings of their marriage, but both as individuals.
“What I loved — and it’s in the book — is George saying that he can’t figure this woman he married, but can’t figure who doesn’t believe there’s a world beyond this one, but still believes that sort of a horse has a soul,” Bezucha said about Margaret’s horse, Strawberry, being put down.
In the end, “Let Him Go” is the latest in a series of Bezucha’s work dealing with family, an anthology of “the ties that bind, and what families mean to each of us — what it means to be a member of a family.”