Actors Should Weather Like Firewood Or Scotch

"Let Him Go," "Pig"

What a pleasure it has been growing older alongside Diane Lane. The actress was 13 when she made her debut in “A Little Romance” (1979) – holding her own against Sir Laurence Olivier, no less – and she hit her late teens just in time to serve as The Girl to all those messed-up Brat Pack boys in “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish” (both 1983). By her 40s, she was giving complicated, empathetic performances as married women tempted by infidelity in “A Walk on the Moon” (1999) (opposite Viggo Mortensen as The Blouse Man, so who can blame her) and in “Unfaithful” (2002), perhaps Lane’s biggest hit. By 2013, she was Superman’s mom in “Man of Steel,” opposite Kevin Costner as Pa Kent. In “Let Him Go,” which sneaked into theaters during the pandemic and is currently available for streaming on HBO and HBO Max, she’s a grandma. I have no idea how this happened.

The movie’s a heartland potboiler with a number of things to recommend it, mainly a tight screenplay and agile, unshowy lead performances. Lane is once again cast opposite Costner, whose acting has become more appealingly minimalist and eroded in recent years: He’s like Gary Cooper left outside for a couple of winters. The two play George and Margaret, a retired Montana sheriff and his wife whose grown son dies in the opening scene and whose daughter-in-law (Kayli Carter) subsequently takes up with a loser and disappears over the horizon with George and Margaret’s young grandchild. The couple vow to track them down, following the trail to the Weboys, a badass Badlands clan of no-neck monsters, and if this is starting to sound like a version of “Death Wish” starring the couple from “American Gothic,” well - it kind of is. And, as such, quite enjoyable even as it’s mulching up genres like a farm combine.

The two leads work together beautifully, old pros who know how to suggest rather than tell. Lane’s Margaret is the more active element of the two, with a rebellious streak that must have made her a hellraiser in high school. It’s she who prods the unwilling George out on the road and insists he take her with him. (He knows it’s going to get ugly, and of course it does.) You believe these two are an actual couple, long-married with long-simmering resentments: George steps into a liquor store for some paper-bag courage, and his wife snaps, “Happy?” “Happy not to get a lecture,” he snaps back. But beneath the prickles are a deeply rooted affection and trust.

Just as you’re getting off on the economy of it all, along comes the Weboy matriarch, Blanche, played with bottle-blonde hair and all stops out by the British actress Lesley Manville. Manville was Oscar nominated for playing the icy sister in “Phantom Thread,” and she has established a persona as a class act that she happily trashes here. She’s smart enough to look at all that underacting that Costner and Lane are doing and blow the doors off the movie by playing her character as the Ma Barker of North Dakota. You know you’re in for a treat when Blanche invites George and Margaret in for pork chops and Manville somehow makes those two syllables become five. Although I don’t know why she’s talking about pork chops when what she’s doing is serving ham straight off the griddle.

Speaking of ham, if you’re looking for a movie in theaters this weekend, you could do a lot worse than check out ”Pig,” which sounds absolutely terrible and absolutely isn’t. It falls into the same “stoic searchers” genre as “Let Him Go,” except that the missing person is a stolen truffle pig, and the monosyllabic hero on its trail is a forest hermit and former five-star Portland, Oregon, chef played by Nicolas Cage. I know, I know, we’re conditioned to expect a Cage performance to sail operatically overboard early and often, and on paper “Pig” sounds like a porcine “John Wick,” heavy on justice dispensed with maximum firepower and blood loss.  But Cage reels it way in and delivers one of his quietest, most moving performances, and for all the film’s simmering threat of violence, it’s ultimately about lost connections and regret. Not to mention an incredible seared pigeon with sautéed chantarelles. “Pig” is something I certainly didn’t expect – a cross between Foodie Noir and a heartbreaking Zen riddle. It’s a remarkable feature debut for director-cowriter Michael Sarnoski.

Just to bring things full circle, let me remind you that Nicolas Cage and Diane Lane are of the same acting generation and have crossed paths twice, both times for Francis Ford Coppola (who’s Cage’s uncle, so there’s rhyme and reason there). The second time was “The Cotton Club” (1984). The first was “Rumblefish,” and, seen today, the sequence in which the two appear together is a wonderfully redolent portent of things to come. Here’s the scene in question; fast forward to minute 1:22 for the moment when Cage turns to face the camera and the students in my film classes all scream.


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