LET HIM GO (2020)

November 5, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner reunite on screen, only this time it’s not as the earthy and earthly parents to Superman (MAN OF STEEL, 2013). Instead, this film from writer-director Thomas Bezucha (THE FAMILY STONE, 2005), based on Larry Watson’s 2013 novel, features the two stars as long-time married couple, Margaret and George Blackledge, living a peaceful existence on their Montana ranch. Well, it’s peaceful now, as George is retired from his career as a lawman.

Their son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter, “Godless”), and young son Jimmy live on the ranch with Margaret and George. Grandma Margaret’s devotion to her grandson and judgmental nature sometimes crosses the line, creating quiet tension with his mother Lorna. George’s trained eye sees it all, but he mostly keeps his thoughts private, although the communication he shares with Margaret is often through a simple gesture or nod. Their chemistry is one that’s only built through time (and fine acting).

When a freak accident leaves James dead, we flash forward three years as Margaret and George attend Lorna’s wedding to Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain, who was excellent in this year’s BLOW THE MAN DOWN). George senses that Donnie does not possess the highest moral character, but Margaret is hit hardest by the newlyweds moving off the ranch and taking her beloved grandson with them. Concern escalates quickly when Margaret witnesses Donnie being physically abusive to Lorna and Jimmy, and then he relocates them to North Dakota to be near his family … without so much as a warning or goodbye to Margaret and George.

Crossing Grandma Margaret is like kicking the hornet’s nest. Poor George arrives home one day to find the car packed and Margaret on a mission to bring Jimmy home. George’s feeble attempt to reason with her fails (as he knew it would) and the two are soon on the road through some gorgeous countryside captured by cinematographer Guy Godfree. Along the way, they cross paths and befriend Peter (Booboo Stewart), a Native American who deserted “Indian School” for a life of solitude on the plains. It’s also on this road trip where Margaret and George are inundated with every possible warning about the notorious Weboy clan of North Dakota. No specifics are provided, but the message is clear … no one messes with the Weboys.

A tip leads the grandparents to Bill Weboy (Jeffrey Donovan, “Burn Notice”), and he provides living proof that the Weboy clan is rotten to the core. Behind an evil grin, Bill invites Margaret and George to the family ranch for dinner and a visit with their grandson. At the ranch, we are introduced to the twisted matriarch, Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville, PHANTOM THREAD, 2017). This meeting of the families is about as tense as any we’ve seen on screen. A clash of good versus evil is always welcome, which makes it so disappointing that a film so stellar to this point, abruptly shifts from an intriguing psychological thriller into a ludicrous circus of violence, poor decisions, and absurdity.

There is a lot to like here, before it spins off the axis. Diane Lane is ferocious in the role, and Costner is very effective as her ‘still waters’ husband. It’s a hoot to see Ms. Manville lose her British accent and go over-the-top as nasty Blanche, and the early 1960’s setting looks great, including the vehicles. As mentioned before, the scenery is breath-taking, with Alberta (Canada) standing in beautifully for Montana and North Dakota. Composer Michael Giacchino is more accustomed to working on superhero and animated movies, and the score is often distracting in the first half, but fits better in the final act. Brace yourself for a couple of tough to watch scenes and a jarring tonal shift.

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MAUDIE (2017)

July 8, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. As the saying goes, “opposites attract”. It seems the bond between Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis and her reclusive employer/husband Everett Lewis prove this so – at least at first glance. However, digging deeper, as director Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White do so expertly here, we discover an abundance of subtle similarities and life events that connect these two … showing yet again that real life is often stranger than fiction.

Sally Hawkins delivers her best performance to date (and a slam dunk Oscar nomination awaits) as Maud. She somehow manages to look even smaller on screen and capture the twisted, painful posture and movements of one stricken with severe arthritis. Ethan Hawke is Everett, the local fish peddler who lives like a hermit in his one-and-a-half room shack on the outskirts of town. Our first glimpse of Maude has her sneaking a cigarette on her Aunt’s porch while she listens to family members argue about who has to care for her. We first see Everett has he stomps into the general store demanding the shopkeeper write out and post his job opening for domestic help.

Filmed in Canada and Ireland, cinematographer Guy Godfree captures the harshness of the seasons and, more impressively, the claustrophobic and sparse living conditions of Maud and Everett’s tiny home (nothing like the HGTV segments). Maud’s sweetness and never-ending ability to find joy in the moment contrasts with Everett’s cantankerous and even initially cruel approach. These polar opposites are both societal outcasts, but eventually develop respect and yes, even love (though such a word would never be exchanged between the two). Hawkins and Hawke share two especially fabulous scenes – their initial meeting in his house, and a many-years-later emotional exchange on a bench. Hawke’s character is a bit challenging for the audience, but Hawkins captures our heart immediately.

Supporting work is minimal, yet effective, as Zachary Bennett plays Maud’s brother Charles, Gabrielle Rose is her Aunt Ida, and Kari Matchett is Sandra – the New Yorker with the fancy shoes who first spots Maud’s talent. Much of the story focuses on Everett’s pride and Maud’s joy/spirit, while slowly they both gain a bit of fame thanks to her artistic talent and their living arrangement.

Ms. Hawkins has long been an underrated actress (despite last year’s Oscar nomination), and her turn in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) was proof she could carry the lead. Here, seeing her hoist such a real life character and story on her hunched back is a thing of beauty and is not to be missed. It’s an artful movie about an artist and making the best of life. The film’s music is perfectly understated and features acoustic guitar, violin and piano. It should be noted that the end of the film features a clip of the real Maud and Everett, and their house has been preserved and displayed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

watch the trailer: