I posted my review Thomas Bezucha‘s Let Him Go (Focus Features, 11.6) on election day. I said I’d wait a week or so before discussing it in greater detail so here goes. Understand that three or four fairly significant SPOILERS follow so please stop reading if you haven’t yet had the pleasure.
To make it easy I’m just going to copy and paste a discussion I had with a colleague…
HE: “Loving Let Him Go — so well composed, exacting, nicely honed. But the bad guys just [performed a violent act upon a major presence] and I really, REALLY didn’t like that. You don’t do that to the laconic, tough-as-nails hero — you just don’t.”
Friendo: “That violent shock scene is one of my favorite things in the film. You’re right — you don’t do that. It’s not done. And that ‘rule’ makes our hero feel implicitly protected.
“That rule-breaking moment raised the stakes. It said: These people are THAT dangerous –— the hero isn’t going to be protected by the usual hero mythology. I thought the horror of that event made what followed more suspenseful, as well as placing [a significant character] on a path toward martyrdom, although we don’t know that yet.
HE: “If you ask me, Kayli Carter is the villain of the piece. She had a good gentle husband (the son of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and then, with a young son, she married a violent sociopath (Will Britain). She couldn’t sniff a whiff of trouble from that guy? Any half-intelligent adult could have. Especially with a three-year old to think about.
“Lane, we’re told, was less than supportive after her son died and so Kayli…what, had no choice but to marry the first available psycho who came along?
After all is said and done, that kid is going to be seriously traumatized, probably for the rest of his life. Decades of therapy.
“And of course Lesley Manville and her scurvy, white-trash, seed-of-Satan sons are cut from the same cloth that Trump supporters will come from 50 years hence. OF COURSE they are. Trump yokels + Deliverance + Animal Kingdom (David Michod‘s Australian crime family, released in 2010).
“And why did Kayli rat them out by telling Manville & Sons that Costner/Lane wanted her to move back with them? She knows that awful family is violent and territorial and yet she ratted out Kevin and Diane?
Friendo: “That plotting with the daughter is a weakness; it’s fuzzy. But I don’t think she’s villainous. The implication is that Donnie kept his true nature mostly hidden. (That can happen with abusers.)
“If you want to run with the Trump metaphor, then do — I think it’s interesting, and I don’t think it’s ‘wrong.’ I’m just saying that as someone disposed to hate rural Trumpers, it never occurred to me.”
“[Kayli’s character] was just confused and clueless. Certainly the film is pretty clear about the fact that once she’s there, she hates her life with the Weboy clan. How could she not? She and the boy are total prisoners, and the Weboys rule — that is, they rule her — by terror.
“The friction between her and the Lane character is way, way underdeveloped. Probably on the cutting-room floor. It’s just a hole, a storytelling flaw, that you have to accept. That said, I think the implication is that she didn’t knowingly marry an abuser.”
HE: “Agreed — the bad blood between Kayli and Diane is barely mined. It only comes out after the downtown diner meeting between Kayli, Kevin and Diane.
“One, Kayli walked right into a marriage with a man who almost certainly would’ve exuded a certain undercurrent, that ‘uh-oh’ feeling you can always sense. Abusers might hide their worst instincts, but any half-attuned person can always pick up a signal or two.
“Did she agree to marry him within days or weeks of meeting him? More likely months, I would think, and you’re telling me she couldn’t sniff him out? She was…what, desperate for financial security and so she threw caution to the winds and took a flyer? No decent mother would expose a young child to a man with a whiff of tyranny or cruelty about him. It just doesn’t smell right.
“And two, she ratted out Costner and Lane because she was ‘confused’? Is that a synonym for ‘a card or two short of a full deck’? She acknowledges that her husband would ‘kill’ her if she said she was leaving, and that Manville would also go ballistic. But it doesn’t occur to her that this ornery varmint family would direct their latent ferocity at Kevin and Diane if she so much as hinted at their suggestion?
“Nope — not buying it.
“But what a shame as the writing and careful pacing and the general feeling of unhurried confidence on Bezucha’s part are impressive. The last time I recall being this taken by his work was way back in the day of The Family Stone.
Friendo: “These are issues of sketchy/flawed screenwriting. You could watch the film a dozen times and these would remain things that simply don’t parse, because (i suspect) they were more convincingly explained in scenes that are now cut.
“But in terms of why Kayli does that ‘tell,’ I think it kind of IS explained, or at least suggested. She’s terrorized by the Weboys (she’s basically living in hillbilly prison camp), but because she’s kind of a weak, passive soul — she’s got a touch of the Stockholm Syndrome. She always invests authority in the other — be it James and the Blackledge family, or Donnie, or even, in a certain living-in-a-nightmare way, the Weboy monster clan.
“At that moment, she’s transitioning. She hasn’t fully shifted her authority/loyalty over to George and Margaret.”