Back in the year 2000, Frequency, a small film about a cop who begins to speak with his deceased father through an old ham radio, debuted in theaters. The movie was an intelligent, suspenseful, unique sci-fi thriller with terrific turns by Jim Caviezel and Dennis Quaid, who found a compelling chemistry together despite having no screen time together. Nineteen years later and we find our way back to a similar premise with Don’t Let Go, another smaller film that understands how to work within the bounds of the idea, but doesn’t know how to build the necessary suspense to sustain any amount of intrigue.
David Oyelowo plays Jack Radcliff, a weary cop (I say weary because the man looks so tired and worn, he can’t even find the strength to smile when he’s around his favorite niece) who spends more time behind a desk than in the field. When he gets a frantic call from his niece, Ashley (Storm Reid), Jack heads to his brother’s home to discover that someone has killed the entire family, including their innocent little dog. A couple of weeks later, Jack starts receiving calls from Ashley from a few days before the murder. It’s now up to Jack to figure out who killed her before it happens again.
The first thing that stands out here is the connection between Oyelowo and Reid. The actors are both fine in their respective roles, but there isn’t one iota of spark between them. As Caviezel and Quaid once proved, for this premise to work there has to be a fire between the two actors that burns even when they aren’t together. The chemistry between Oyelowo and Reid is so dry, it’s hard to become invested enough in their love for one another to believe that whatever cosmic force is helping them would care about bringing her back to him.
The next thing that kept me from connecting to the film on any real level is how Jack and Ashley connect across time. Ashley is able to talk to “future” Jack on her cell phone, but why exactly do her phone calls suddenly connect to the future Jack’s phone when she was able to connect to “present day” Jack prior to this? The reason this idea worked in Frequency was because father and son were using the exact same radio to communicate. So even though there was some suspension of disbelief, it still made sense within the confines of the premise. The only reason we have for Ashley and Jack is that he bought her the phone for whenever she’s in trouble.
Finally, even though the film does begin to build some semblance of suspense, the climax is wasted with a neutered turn of events. That is to say, the reveal of the killer is such a bore, it completely wipes away any good will the film has left in its arsenal.
There are also too many variables at play that are overlooked. In Frequency, there’s a thirty year gap between the two timelines; Caviezel’s character is just a kid in the past, so there’s no real way he can help. In Don’t Let Go, there’s only a three-week gap. Which begs the question — no matter how the information might change the future, why doesn’t Jack allow his niece to go talk to his past self about what’s happening? If there was one person that could help solve the case and protect his niece, it would be himself.
This question never gets explored until the bitter end when it doesn’t have any significance. The reason, as far as I can tell, is because the premise would break if he told his past self. But at least it would have given the filmmakers some creative license to bring in another layer of intrigue. Personally, I would have loved a scene in which Ashley tells the “present” Jack of her conversations with the “future” Jack, and to prove it, has him talk to himself. That would have been a nice hook to give the film some juice and take it in some unexpected directions.
Don’t Let Go tries to be intelligent; it tries to be suspenseful; it tries to be intriguing. But there’s nothing new to hold onto. What little action there is is standard fare at best; the plot walks us through the motions without much care for presenting anything special; the reasons for why the family is killed in the first place is flimsy; and every cast member, including Alfred Molina as the police captain and Mykelti Williamson as Jack’s friend and partner, seem to be going through the motions even while raising the film up due to their respect for the craft.
The film asks us not to let go, but it’s hard to hold on when there’s no substance of which to grab.
My Grade: C
Who knew we needed more Nick Nolte in our lives? Apparently the producers of Angel Has Fallen, a film that remains on par with the the first two chapters in this “Has Fallen” trilogy, but which gets a much needed shot in the arm with Nolte, who comes on board as Mike Banning’s (Gerard Butler) father, Clay, for some perfectly-timed comic relief. B+
Like Angel Has Fallen, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is about on par with its predecessor… but that isn’t saying much. Even though there are a few highlights scattered throughout — mostly involving a c-story that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the rest of the film — the anemic plot and lack of energy in most of the voice cast keep Angry Birds from soaring. B-
Next week, new movies include It: Chapter 2. If you would like to see a review of this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.