Don’t Let Go Reveals the Limits of Color-blind Casting and Writing

It is as if Hollywood thinks that blackness can be shaken off, exorcised from the

lives of characters. Photo: OTL Releasing When I spoke to manufacturer Jason Blum about Don’t Let Go, the Blumhouse-produced supernatural thriller written and directed by Jacob Estes, I asked whether the characters in the film were composed as black, or if his company utilized a method called color-blind casting. “That s a good method of stating it,”he informed me.It was written from a color-blind viewpoint. It was most likely written white.”It shows.

The issue with color-blind writing is it recommends race is insignificant to the lives we lead. It is as if Hollywood believes that blackness can be brushed off, exorcised from the lives of characters. There’s a sense that blackness doesn t matter if stories aren’t explicitly about race and racial strife, which is an extreme failure of creativity and compassion. Race affects our understanding of ourselves, our world, and where we map into it. How could it not affect how we move and who we are in methods both minute and grand?

In Don’t Let Go, the color-blind writing is most obvious in how confidential and indistinct the characters feel. Embed in a drearily anonymous vision of Los Angeles, the film centers on Jack Radcliff (David Oyelowo), a detective whose family is brutally murdered, including his beloved niece, Ashley (Storm Reid). However simply as Jack starts blunting his grief with alcohol, he starts to get calls from Ashley. He questions his peace of mind as the Ashley on the other end of the line declares to be living in the past, days before her murder. Then Jack barrels into trying to fix her case, rewrite the past, and in some way still shelter his niece from the future he understands.

The central conceit arrives with a wealth of concerns about grief, the nature of time, and what it suggests to rewrite your own story. However Don’t Release is a slog. I want it chilled out, better balanced the possible fear, delight, marvel, and delight spooling out of its facility to yield a more adventurous result. Rather, it brings itself with fear and stilted seriousness, reduced only by noteworthy efficiencies from Reid and Oyelowo. The 2 actors display a warmth and inflammation that infuse the movie with its few sparks of authentic feeling. But in the end, their characters are more action figures, moved in ways the color-blind plot demands, less living and breathing productions. How can we appreciate anybody’s past if we don t understand who they are in the first place?

The visual landscape of Don’t Release undercuts its own capacity, further weighing down what could have been a thrilling, time-bending examination. Handheld cam work is indicated to include grit and suspense to a series of scenes that hang their crucial stakes on 2 individuals talking on the phone for long stretches of time. Los Angeles is rendered with a sickly, muted sheen. The blocking of the stars leeches the drama upon which certain scenes in the last act rely. Genuine minutes of stress, like when Ashley is caught spying on her dad’s criminal entanglements and just narrowly gets away, are rendered listless by the decisions Estes and cinematographer Sharone Meir make in building such a joyless-looking film.

But once again, Jack and Ashley have a vibrant that is an enjoyment to enjoy. Oyelowo and Reid charge the film with a warm, familial chemistry from the start. Their vibrant —-- intense commitment from the uncle, spunky energy from the niece —-- boosts the rotely written scenes of Jack plucking Ashley from a life of moderate disregard, if only to take her to a restaurant. Other stars in the film fare even worse. Brian Tyree Henry as Garret Radcliff, Ashley’s father and Jack s sibling, is specifically underutilized, which is an embarassment given his lightning-bright talent and presence. Mykelti Williamson as fellow detective and household good friend, Bobby, gets lost in the morass of the last act, which moves the movie from supernatural thriller with notes of household melodrama to a cop drama specified by subterfuge and double crossing.

What issues exist in the movie can’t be laid at the feet of the actors but the complicated, prosaic script which unintentionally exposes the limits of color-blind casting and writing. Which is a pointer that blackness shouldn’t be removed from the life of the characters however imbued in the film to provide it the distinction it so frantically needs.

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