First Hit: Visually well crafted and ambitious in concept, ultimately it didn’t quite satisfy.
Films that mess with time (jump time), like “Memento” and “Frequency” have had their ways to jump time and create an engaging story. “Don’t Let Go” does this and then some.
In this story, the deep trusting relationship between a Policeman Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo) and his niece Ashley (Storm Reed), is put to the test when Ashley, her father (and Jack’s brother) Garret (Brian Tyree Henry), and mother Susan (Shinelle Azoroh) are brutally murdered, or are involved in a murder-suicide.
The film does a great job of showing how close Jack and Ashley are through multiple telephone calls and one on one discussions. He does this because his brother has had a checkered past, and he wants the best for Ashley.
Jack gets a disturbing and interrupting call from Ashley that ends in a hang-up. He drives over to his brother’s home and finds them all murdered. Shocked, he thinks that this could be the result of Garret’s re-involvement in illegal drugs, with the intent to distribute.
Despondent, he’s in shock during the funeral which is then followed by scenes of him sitting at home, at a loss for why this happened. Shortly after that, he gets a call from Ashley’s phone and the voice on the other end is definitely Ashley, although it is more scratchy sounding than usual. She hangs up. He calls back and gets a message that this number is no longer in use. Shocked he checks the police crime scene file boxes and doesn’t find her phone. Breaking into his brother’s murder scene sealed home, he finds the phone in the tub. It is broken and doesn’t work.
He then gets another call from Ashley from her number, and he begins to talk with her while trying to grapple with how this can be because he’s buried Ashley and yet she’s calling him.
Eventually, he determines that she’s calling him from the past and by slowly accepting that if he can change Ashley’s past actions, just before the murderous event, he is hoping to help her shift her future and his future as well, the one he’s already lived through.
That’s what this film attempts to do, have the audience believe this possible and improbably story of past and future existing at the same time. The work to make this film believable is all up to the acting of Oyelowo because he’s trying to live in three different time frames all at the same time. In doing so, he must juggle and make the audience believe the various versions and scenarios of the story. In two of them he gets shot. One he gets shot by a drive-by shooting. In another he gets shot twice, once in a warehouse and then by a fellow officer. These wounds bring him to the edge of death but also make him figure out who his brother’s murderer is and who might be corrupt in the police department. Ultimately, he’s able to help Ashley stay alive and conversely it allows him to live.
This is a complex film, and I thought the sets and scenes were well designed. The alleyways, buildings, and street scenes were not overpowering, but they brought the right tone and reality to this mystery.
Oyelowo does an outstanding job of creating belief. Less of an actor would have made this film a mess and unbelievable. He was able to use his protective love for Ashley in a most effective way. The whole restaurant gum scene was beautiful. Reed shows again (“A Wrinkle in Time” among her credits) what a wonderful actor she is becoming. Again, watch the restaurant gum scene, she’s magnificent in it. Mykelti Williamson, as fellow police officer and friend Bobby, was excellent as a trusted friend and eventually an antagonist. Jacob Estes wrote and directed this complex and challenging movie. At times, I felt I needed different clarifying touchpoints, but it was well done.
Overall: Although I really liked the components, I still don’t feel that the film finished as well as it could have.