(CNN)The ads for “Let Him Go” frankly don’t really do the movie justice, making this understated little film — anchored by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner’s steely performances — look a lot more like “Taken” than it actually is. That faulty impression aside, this crisply-made tale is well worth seeing, possessing a throwback, star-vehicle quality for veteran actors that’s increasingly rare.
Adapted from Larry Watson’s novel with the same title, the movie reunites Lane and Costner after their teaming as Superman’s parents in “Man of Steel.” Parenting is again very much on their minds, although unlike Ma and Pa Kent, the situation here is considerably more grounded.
In a quick opening segment, the pair’s son dies, leaving behind his wife (Kayli Carter) and young son. She quickly remarries, but not too long after Lane’s Margaret is horrified to see the new husband striking both of them.
Margaret is eager to intervene, but her husband George (Costner), a retired sheriff, adopts a more cautious tone.
After the newlyweds abruptly disappear, Margaret and George eventually locate them and encounter the husband’s family, the Weboy clan. They’re a thoroughly loathsome bunch, with a creepy uncle (Jeffrey Donovan) and even creepier matriarch (“Phantom Thread’s” Lesley Manville). All smiles through clenched teeth, it’s clear they don’t welcome the prospect of outside interference, creating tension about just how confrontational the impasse is going to become, with a child’s fate hanging in the balance.
It’s around there where “Let Him Go” — written and directed by Thomas Bezucha — confounds expectations, in mostly the best of ways.
Set in the early 1960s (roughly a decade later than the book’s time frame), the film possesses a strong western sensibility with languid shots of the heartland, dovetailing with Costner’s fondness for the genre. He’s at his laconic best — his voice seldom rises above a low growl — but the movie is largely Lane’s show, and she’s splendid as usual, portraying how the western-bred Margaret draws upon reservoirs of strength in her resolve to save her grandson, the last connection to her child.
The story does take a violent turn, but in an unconventional way. Ultimately, the real firepower resides in the performances, from the palpable sense of menace Manville projects to the simple devotion and tenderness that Lane and Costner exhibit toward the boy and each other. Theirs is a relationship where small moments speak volumes.
This is, admittedly, a strange time related to how and where people will wind up consuming this type of small-boned movie, but there’s always room for another good one. “Let Him Go” might not be super, but it’s definitely a trip worth taking.
“Let Him Go” premieres in theaters on Nov. 6. It’s rated R.