In Don’t Let Go, David Oyelowo stars as Detective Jack Radcliff a man who’s world gets torn apart when his brother’s family is seemingly the victims of a murder-suicide. Something doesn’t seem quite right though. As he’s coping with this loss, Jack receives a shocking call from his niece, Ashley (Storm Reid). Somehow calling him from the past, she’s still alive but the horrific murder is looming large just three days away. Jack is then stuck in a race against time to discover the true identity of the killer so that he can stop the murders from ever happening. Or else risk losing his family all over again.
For most of the 104-minute runtime of Don’t Let Go, I was all in. The acting, direction, score, MOST of the writing (we’ll come back to this one). But the third act shows its cards too early and, in search of shock and awe, ends in a whimper. By the time of the big “reveal,” you feel like Muhammed Ali seeing a punch from ten miles away. What should’ve been a gut punch that knocks the wind out of you feels like a butterfly fart, barely enough for you to notice. But enough about the ending, for now.
Overall I really did enjoy the movie, especially the acting. Some of the side characters bounce all over the place in single scenes. But, the two performances that matter the most, Oyelowo’s and Reid’s hit it out of the park. Oyelowo absolutely kills it as the emotional beat director. Throughout the film, his character’s desperation is obvious, in his actions, his words, his facial expressions. The veteran actor brings his trademark commitment and intensity to this role and elevates the entire affair. His young co-star doesn’t take this one off though. Already a veteran in her own right, Reid brings a maturity and believability to this role that most child actors couldn’t pull off. Maybe it’s from working on projects like 12 Years a Slave, When They See Us, and Euphoria but, regardless, Reid is talented. Hollywood better watch out.
Unfortunately, the writing drags down these aspects in some key places, especially near the end. Awkward lines, too many logical hoops to jump through, and an overall sense of confusion over the last 30 minutes left a bad taste in my mouth. BUT, it’s worth noting that a “meh” script is the only thing holding back Don’t Let Go, plateauing at “good, not great.” That said, it’s still pretty damn good. About halfway through there’s a moment where it suddenly feels like the end as Oyelowo’s character, Jack dies. But, suddenly he’s pulled back in as he’s done enough to change the past so that his “death” never happened. That was probably the smartest moment in the film as the concept was on the brink of wearing thin. But, thanks to incredible, editing and direction, the audience is sucked back into the plot; just like Jack is.
In the end, this film makes its money in its editing and direction. The framing, composition, and attention to detail in Don’t Let Go form one of the most interesting and thrilling films of the year. (For about 75 minutes.) In terms of rewatchability, I’m not sure it’s one that you’ll feel a compulsive desire to watch again ASAP. But, the performances of Reid and Oyelowo, as well as the direction from Jacob Aaron Estes, help craft a tense, desperate thriller that will surely live on as a cable mainstay and Netflix hidden gem.
Don’t Let Go is in theaters now.