A Los Angeles detective gets caught up in a mind-bending mystery when he receives a call from his dead niece and tries to prevent her murder before it happens in “Don’t Let Go,” a messy and tonally confused thriller starring David Oyelowo (“Selma”) and Storm Reid (“A Wrinkle in Time”).
Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes (“Mean Creek”), this monumental misfire takes an intriguing premise and botches it with overly stylized camerawork, a melodramatic score, affected performances and a confounding storyline that will leave viewers deeply dissatisfied. Riddled with tonal problems and an ambitious but underwhelming structure that hopscotches between timelines in erratic fashion, the screenplay tries to string audiences along with its mystifying time travel concept, but the resulting effort is ultimately unrewarding. Even with a string of talented actors on hand to bring this murder mystery to fruition, including established character actors like Mykelti Williamson, Brian Tyree Henry and Alfred Molina, “Don’t Let Go” can’t overcome the mind-boggling and needlessly tricky nature of its premise, leaving audiences to ponder the point of this convoluted endeavor.
In the film, David Oyelowo plays David Radcliff, a Los Angeles city detective who is devastated to discover his family members, including his brother Jack (Brian Tyree Henry), sister-in-law (Shinelle Azoroh), and niece Ashley (Storm Reid) brutally murdered at their home. No sooner than he discovers the bodies, Jack receives a call from Ashley, which is inconceivable considering he is in possession of her cell phone. As we come to learn, the call is actually coming from four days in the past, which Jack, who is something of a guardian to his niece, initially struggles to comprehend.
Once David accepts this supernatural ability to communicate with someone in the past, he realizes that he can use this information to not only solve who killed his family, but actually prevent it as well. As Jack delves deeper into this time traveling mystery, plummeting further into danger along the way, the detective and his niece try to use their time-bending abilities to save one another before it’s too late.
The time travel thriller is hardly a novel concept, with “Minority Report” perhaps being the most mainstream example, and one would hope that the countless examples of previous efforts would then inspire an innovative approach to the premise, but that is not the case with “Don’t Let Go.” More confusing than compelling, writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes introduces a lot of interesting elements to the narrative but as a whole they don’t add up to much aside from strained performances, self-conscious filmmaking and an overall laborious viewing experience.
The cast of “Don’t Let Go” are a talented lot who have proven themselves many times over across genres and projects both large and small. And while the failings of this effort stem more from the storyline than anything else, the performances here are less than memorable. As Detective Jack Radliff, David Oyelowo is trapped in this perplexing time travel premise, and the confusion that he projects over his bewildering ordeal mimics that of the audience, which leads to some unintentional laughs. As the recently murdered yet somehow still communicative niece Ashley, Storm Reid hits all the necessary dramatic beats and proves herself a committed cast member, even if the storyline at times falls short of her efforts, while actors Mykelti Williamson and Brian Tyree Henry put in serviceable supporting performances.
“Don’t Let Go” is a mind-boggling murder mystery that isn’t worth the effort.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 103 minutes
Rated R for violence, bloody images and language.