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Don’t Let Go (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

Don’t Let Go

DON’T LET GO (2019)

Starring David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry, Shinelle Azoroh, Daniel R. Lawson and Omar Leyva.

Screenplay by Jacob Aaron Estes.

Directed by Jacob Aaron Estes.

Distributed by BH Tilt. 107 minutes. Rated R.

In 2006, a now mostly forgotten little time-travel romance really struck my fancy. It was called The Lake House. (I know it got rather mixed reviews, but I just loved it.) It had a very simple conceit – a doctor (Sandra Bullock) and an architect (Keanu Reeves) who both lived in the same home a couple of years apart found that they were able to communicate with each other in their own era through a magical mailbox. Through letters, they were able to change each other’s lives and eventually fall in love. But would their paths ever cross? And if they did, would it matter, because only one of them would have the memories of their correspondence until two years later in the present?

It was a simple, elegant plot device. I always thought it was an idea that should be used more often.

Thirteen years later, Don’t Let Go has had the foresight to use that same basic idea as the spine of a murder mystery. Even in this much different context, the idea still works well.

Oh, sure, there are some very basic changes. In Don’t Let Go, the two time-travel communicators already knew each other – a policeman (David Oyelowo) and his recently murdered favorite niece (Storm Reid). They do not communicate through a magic mailbox, but through an apparently magical cell phone. (People don’t write anymore, anyway…) And the difference in time here is merely two weeks. The cop has a matter of days to save his niece from being butchered with her family in a drug deal gone wrong. (Oddly, he doesn’t seem to work as hard to save his brother and sister-in-law.)

Also, in Don’t Let Go, they are working hard to alter the past, where in The Lake House they quickly realized that any attempts to substantially change history were futile. In fact, the universe tends to fight back against it.

What can I say? The idea still works. I do not love Don’t Let Go in the same way that I loved The Lake House, but I enjoyed it a lot.

The story is pretty simple. Jack (Oyelowo) is a hard-working policeman who dotes on his little 11-year-old niece Ashley (Reid). He’s particularly overprotective of the girl because her dad (Brian Tyree Henry) is untrustworthy as well as a former addict (though he does appear to be clean now.) One night, Ashley and her parents (and her dog!) are violently murdered during what appears to be a drug deal gone violently awry in their home.

Despite the fact that he is way too close to the case, Jack and his good-natured partner (Mykelti Williamson) investigate the deaths. One day, when searching for clues on his own, he receives a call on his cell phone that seems to be from Ashley. When he answers it the niece is on the line. It turns out he is talking to her from a couple of weeks earlier, and he sets about trying to save her life during a series of calls from the past, while exploring her murder in the present day.

They never explain how the phone calls through time work or why they are happening. (Then again, The Lake House never explained the time portal in the post box.) Jack actually seems to take a bit too much time before warning the girl of her impending death. (He doesn’t quite believe what is happening and that it can really be her.)

And I’m not going to lie, it’s not all that hard to figure out who the bad guy is going to be.

Still, it’s a smart and twisty psychological thriller, and the concept works like a charm, even in a more down-and-dirty context. However, there should be a cold place in Hell for any filmmaker who kills off a dog in service of his story.

Don’t Let Go will not hold together if you give it too much thought, but if you give in to its fractured logic, it is a fun ride.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: August 30, 2019.

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