Kevin Costner reaches back in time with new thriller ‘Let Him Go’

In this image released by Focus Features, Diane Lane, left, and Kevin Costner appear in a scene from "Let Him Go."

In this image released by Focus Features, Diane Lane, left, and Kevin Costner appear in a scene from "Let Him Go."

Kimberley French / AP

The retired sheriff, played by Kevin Costner, climbs into his 1958 Chevrolet wagon with the confidence he brings to every moment, from riding his horse to talking with his grandson or taking his wife to dinner. This man lives within his boundaries to know what it will take for him to his comfort for someone he loves.

When he fears his grandson is threatened, this devoted family man immediately overlooks what may be familiar in his life to what may be necessary for others. He knows what he must do to protect his own family as a private citizen as he once did to protect his community as a lawman. While that job involved strangers; these moments focus on family. And when tragedy strikes, and threats begin, the sheriff challenges himself to do anything for the people he loves.

The vintage automobiles in “Let Him Go” aren’t the only reminders of a different time. The movie’s sense of place and peril recall a focus on character that once defined movie thrillers. This sheriff is a classic character with a strong moral landscape framing natural hesitation. Think James Stewart in “Vertigo” or Gary Cooper in “High Noon.” This film’s cinematic confidence returns us to classics of the 1940s and 1950s when characters were compelling and conflicts were clear. Suddenly we shift to the time, before people could text or call to warn, when they could only fear what could be waiting around the corner.

“Let Him Go” may not tell us anything new about how grandparents love grandchildren or how moviemakers create fear. Still, what the film may lack in originality, it overcomes with precision. Writer/director Thomas Bezucha meticulously details his narrative to leave no questions unanswered or plot lines unresolved. He never forgets that a thriller audience only knows what a moviemaker shares, that we rely on him to make sure we know enough to feel the chills. If this sounds like a recipe, “Let Him Go” uses all the ingredients. The villains are mean, the heroes mean well, and the confrontations mean business. What makes the film feel fresh is how Bezucha never takes our attention for granted. He makes sure he gives us enough to enjoy the ride. And, rather than take sides in this family squabble, he smartly reveals all the flaws to reinforce that thrillers require choices and consequences.

Costner and Diane Lane bring years of screen work to add seasoning to their portrayals. For Costner, this later chapter in his career continues to showcase the range of his presence on screen. Lane makes us believe in this woman’s sincerity and desperation through the details of performance, from baking a cake to giving her grandson a bath. And, as the lead villain, the usually-refined Lesley Manville has a great time exaggerating every line and gesture as a matriarch intent on keeping her family together. In her own way.

Costner’s 1958 Chevrolet looks great on screen in a film filled with lovely vistas. While a screen so broad can overwhelm its story, this movie knows how to chill. Thanks to the authenticity of character and the depth of relationships, “Let Him Go” delivers the thrills.

“Let Him Go” runs 1 hour and 53 minutes, is Rated R for violence, and is showing in theaters before an online release.

Film Nutritional Value: Let Him Go

Content: High. Grandparents risk their lives to save the grandson they cherish.

Entertainment: High. While the film is decidedly dark, its period-specific sensibility makes the action accessible while the performances make the characters engaging.

Message: High. No matter that the film takes place several years ago, the lessons of what grandparents will do to help a child are naturally touching.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to savor a well-made film is enjoyable, but this is not a family film.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about the choices people make to protect the people they love.

Mark Schumann is the Reel Dad.