Don't Let Go (United States, 2019)

August 29, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Don't Let Go Poster

Spoiler Warning: I’m not 100% certain what constitutes a “spoiler” for this film and what has been revealed in the trailer and/or pre-release publicity. However, it’s difficult for me to engage in a coherent discussion of the movie without going into some details, so keep that in mind if you decide to read on...

Working with time travel is never an easy task and, when a filmmaker doesn’t take a rigorous, consistent approach, it can become a mess. Such is the case with Don’t Let Go, a crime thriller that relies on time travel/multiverse elements to set it apart from other generic entries in an overcrowded genre. Writer/director Jacob Estes has come to the project with a clever concept but his execution is weak, contradictory, and confusing. One is likely to come away from the production frustrated because of the lack of consistency inherent in how Estes addresses time travel-related paradoxes. Yes, these are fictional/theoretical ideas but a filmmaker needs to approach them by establishing and adhering to rules – something that Don’t Let Go fails to do.

Police officer Jack Radcliffe (David Oyelowo) has a special relationship with his teenage niece, Ashley (Storm Reid). The offspring of often-distracted parents, Garret (Brian Tyree Henry) and Susan (Shinelle Azoroh), Ashley has latched onto her uncle as a surrogate father – a role he is more than happy to fill until the tragic day when he receives a garbled phone call from her and arrives at her house to find a gruesome murder scene. Jack is inconsolable despite the best attempts of his captain (Alfred Molina) and partner, Bobby (Mykelti Williamson), to help him through his grief. Then, one day, he receives a mysterious phone call from the unlikeliest of people: Ashley. After doubting his sanity, Jack comes to an inescapable conclusion: his niece is calling him from the past. Knowing this, he wonders whether there might be a way for him to feed her enough information to prevent her murder. But time is running out for Jack as well.

Reading a description of Don’t Let Go hints at a movie I might want to see. Seeing the production, however, is a deflating experience because of the director’s fundamental misunderstanding of the existential concepts he is employing. Estes wants the film to function more as an offbeat thriller than a science fiction/thriller hybrid. As a result, the time travel aspects are shunted to the side, employed more as a plot device than an integral element of the narrative. That’s the key flaw in the motion picture. The movie has a slick, surface-level cleverness that evaporates upon even momentary consideration. Those who pay attention need not venture beyond the theater doors.

One of the strongest aspects of Don’t Let Go is the chemistry between David Oyelowo and Storm Reid. Oyelowo’s acting credentials are impeccable – he brings a touch of class to everything in which he appears. 16-year old Reid, who played Meg in Disney’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, appears to be on the verge of breaking out. There’s a strong sense of affection between the characters that provides viewers with an emotional investment in their fates no matter how hard the narrative contortions seek to deconstruct that investment. Mykelti Williamson has the thankless role of the best friend/partner. And Alfred Molina is almost distracting because of his eerie resemblance to the character of Mr. Creosote from Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.

Don’t Let Go is superficially reminiscent of Source Code and Deja Vu in how it plays with the storyline and tweaks viewer expectations. Yet both of those films did a significantly better job tripping the light fantastic and applying science fiction/time travel paradoxes. There’s a reason why a movie like Don’t Let Go is being released at the end of summer – the slowest weekend of the year at the box office. Even with producer Blumhouse emphasizing the movie’s “supernatural” elements, it’s a difficult sell to mainstream audiences, especially when one considers how erratically Don’t Let Go executes its core concepts.

Don't Let Go (United States, 2019)

Director: Jacob Estes
Cast: David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry, Shinelle Azoroh
Home Release Date: 2019-11-26
Screenplay: Jacob Estes
Cinematography: Sharone Meir
Music: Ethan Gold
U.S. Distributor: OTL Releasing
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 2019-08-30
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1