By James Lindorf
Check out interview with star David Oyelowo below and review below that.
Don’t Let Go follows Detective Jack Radcliffe (David Oyelowo, Selma) a good cop and a great uncle to his niece, Ashley (Storm Reid, A Wrinkle in Time). Garret (Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta), Ashley’s father, is trying to move on from his past and do better by his family, but it is not always easy. After another incident, this time leaving Ashley struggling to find a way home, Garret gets a dressing down from Jack and seems to have turned a corner. The good times only last so long when Jack makes the startling discovery that Ashley, her mom Susan (Shinelle Azoroh), and Garret are all dead. Still in shock after the funeral, Jack gets an impossible phone call from Ashley. With a little help from Jack’s best friend Bobby (Mykelti Williamson, Forrest Gump), they race to solve her murder before it can happen. Blumhouse will give the R-rated sci-fi thriller a wide release on August 30th.
Don’t Let Go has all the components of a good film: an outstanding cast, strong performances, and an exciting premise. Writer-director Jacob Estes (Rings), crafts a story that starts strong but ends up having more splinters than his timeline. His decision to not explore the machinations behind the phenomena is a smart one because it could never be adequately explained. Leaving the call as a random miracle frees viewers up to focus on the elements that are presented and not the scientific or religious accuracies of the cause. Unfortunately, that decision is outweighed by the decision to not stick to the rules he established early on. The miracle isn’t confined to a magical speed dial; it continues to evolve until the closing minutes of the film. While that evolution can add intrigue, when allowed to run rampant it only adds confusion.
While the story has its faults, the performances and the emotional connections between characters are what carry the film. Their chemistry is a testament to their talent, especially given that the actors are rarely on screen together. Oyelowo makes Jack’s love and concern for his niece and brother evident from the beginning, leaving no doubt how far he will go to protect them. Reid is a natural as the wise-beyond-her-years teen navigating troubled relationships at home. Williamson and Alfred Molina, in a cameo, are as good as they always are, even with limited screen time.
Estes does earn a shout out along with the location scouts and Cinematographer Sharone Meir (Whiplash) for the use of South-Central LA as a location. In contrast to its typical portrayal, South Central is shown as the home to thousands of people just looking to live their lives. While the community does struggle economically and has problems with violence, it is also not a gang run wasteland. The neighborhood’s unique blend of industrial/residential and peaceful/violent plays heavily into the development of the characters and the outcome of the story.
Great use of location and fantastic performances from the cast show Estes’ potential as a serious genre director. However, like so many scripts of films with big ideas, the number of ideas got out of hand. If Estes could have gotten a call from a past version of himself, then the modern version could have advised past Estes to trim the second half of the script. If that happened, Don’t Let Go could have been a top-five genre movie this year. Instead, if it’s remembered, it will be as that ok movie where the cast acted their butts off.