Don't Let Go
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Don’t Let Go is a thriller with an absurd premise and unnecessarily complex plot. It has supposedly been recut since premiering at Sundance and feels like something the studio dumped in a soft week without much promotion because they have no confidence in it. That is probably accurate, though it is not quite as bad as all that makes it sound. It is partially salvaged by a strong lead performance and some suspenseful sequences. There is just enough skill on display (as well as ridiculousness) to prevent its more problematic aspects from completely dragging it down. It is an odd mess, but a mildly entertaining one.
Jack is a police officer with a screw-up for a brother and a teenage niece, Ashley, he absolutely adores. After getting a strange phone call from her, he shows up at their house to find them murdered. Devastated, he receives a call from his niece’s phone. Inexplicably, it is her, communicating through time, calling from a few days before her death. This gives him the chance to save her life by helping her change her future.
There are so many paradoxes inherent in any time-based plot and Don’t Let Go gleefully sidesteps dealing with any of them. There is no discussion whatsoever about how they can be talking to each other or how their time meddling could alter his reality. It could not care less about that stuff. What it wants to do is establish a convincing relationship and use it to add drama to its central gimmick. And it definitely feels like a gimmick. The murder story is full of clichés and is barely even investigated. The culprit (whose identity I guessed at the very beginning of the movie) is not discovered so much as they arbitrarily reveal themselves. The ending is also jumbled as the filmmakers get too clever with parallel cuts between Jack and Ashley in similar circumstances. It was intended to link them, however it just confused the action.
That is the bad. The good has to do with the performance of David Oyelowo as Jack. Best known for playing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in 2014’s Selma, he is a very powerful actor. He brings some honest, grounded, emotion to Don’t Let Go. While I could not always believe the movie, I believed him. His grief is desperate enough that I was able to get past how quickly he accepts what is happening. He is hopeful, intense and entirely motivated by his love for Ashley. That drives more than a few scenes. As Ashley, Storm Reid is also pretty good. She mainly plays scared and confused, but the important part is that audiences can buy into the niece-uncle relationship. They make up for a lot, taking what could have been a disaster and making it occasionally engaging.
Even with all of its ludicrous turns, Don’t Let Go (97 minutes, minus the end credits) could have been worthy of a clean recommendation if it stuck its landing. Sadly, the ending does not work. It tries too hard to be thrilling and misplaces its heart. Everything Jack does is so he can see Ashley again, yet the movie botches the payoff, instead focusing on lame revelations and a dull chase scene. The consequences of what has happened are not addressed as it just ends suddenly, possibly to avoid having to explain things that make no sense. As it is, this is weirdly entertaining, made better than it has any right to be by the committed performance from David Oyelowo. It is still not particularly good, but I guess it would qualify as a guilty pleasure if I ever felt guilty about liking a movie.
3 out of 5
David Oyelowo as Jack
Storm Reid as Ashley
Mykelti Williamson as Bobby
Alfred Molina as Howard
Brian Tyree Henry as Garret
Written and Directed by Jacob Estes