In casting Kevin Costner in the western revenge thriller, Let Him Go, director Thomas Bezucha was well aware of his star’s daunting legacy in the western genre.
Kevin Costner, of course, directed, produced and starred in Dances with Wolves, which won seven Oscars, later earning an Emmy for his role in TV western mini-series Hatfields & McCoys, and currently starring in TV’s Yellowstone as a formidable patriarch and ranch owner.
Recalling one of his early meetings with the actor, Let Him Go director Thomas Bezucha says, “The very first time I met with Kevin he asked me if his character wore a hat, and I said ‘no’. I think that was the right answer. I think he wanted to not wear a hat to differentiate from his current TV role as John Dutton on Yellowstone.”
Based on Larry Watson’s novel and set during the 1960s, Let Him Go sees Costner as retired Montana sheriff George Blackledge, living a simple homestead life with wife Margaret (Diane Lane), their son and his wife and infant grandson.
The elder couple’s life is derailed following the tragic loss of their son, and when their daughter-in-law remarries, they are compelled to leave their Montana ranch on a mission through the North Dakota desert to rescue their young grandson from a dangerous family living off the grid.
The Blackledges will soon discover that the Weboy family, a deep-rooted local clan led by ruthless matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), has no intention of letting the child go, forcing George and Margaret to ask how far they will go to fight for their family.
If Costner is ingrained on the collective psyche as a cowboy, then the director hopes he comes off more as a lawman, making numerous small visual decisions to point him in that direction.
“We gave him a buzz-cut like a cop and dressed him in tan jeans, never blue denim. I wanted to always feel the ghost of his uniform,” says Bezucha, who hails from a fashion background.
Costner, he argues, is such a larger than life screen star, “you need something as big as Let Him Go’s western landscape to contain him.”
With her blonde bouffant hair and fancy dresses, Manville’s Blanche Weboy presents an interesting nemesis.
“We decided Blanche would be very vain, so we based her look on movie stars she might have seen back in the day. She’s very much a nod to Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns,” Bezucha says, pointing out that if you look very closely, there’s a flaming match pattern on Blanche’s dress, hinting of an incendiary outcome.
A thrilling story of vengeance and heroism set against an iconic western backdrop, Bezucha surprisingly considers Let Him Go to be a love story.
“In many ways that’s what it is to me – a love story between Kevin and Diane’s characters. We find them in this scary and terrible predicament, which happens to be in a western setting. It also has the logic of a western.”
Making his directorial debut with the Montana-set Big Eden twenty-one years ago, New Yorker Bezucha has longed to return to the west. “I love the west and have never slept better in my life as I did while we were shooting Big Eden in Glacier National Park.”
For Let Him Go, he moved even further north, shooting in Alberta, Canada – its grand vistas resembling the American west.
Having previously directed The Family Stone and Monte Carlo, Bezucha is mostly drawn to family themes.
“Family dynamics have always intrigued me, possibly because my own family is so small. I have a sister and my parents were divorced back in the ‘70s, so it’s a typical American mess that led to my fascination with families.”
Often likening his characters to people that he knows in real life, the director says of Costner, “He reminds me of my Uncle Douglas with his inherent decency, which I find so moving.”
Despite all his accolades, Costner never offered unsolicited advice on set. “He’s a director, a writer, an actor and a producer, which makes him genetically a storyteller. Ultimately, he’s a wonderful collaborator whose only motivation is to make everything better. He’s the best partner I could have wished for.”