If you haven’t seen “LUV”, it’s a great indie pick for your Netflix instant queue (as of this review). It’s a unique look at masculinity, the absence of fathers and positive role models in the black community. In other ways it’s a “Training Day” meets “Boyz in the Hood” type of film. Although some parts of the film seem far fetched, this is a ride along that you can’t take your eyes off of.
The film stars rapper/actor Common as Vincent. Having recently left prison, Vincent has big dreams of making a life for himself as an owner of a crab shack on Baltimore’s waterfront. Living with his mother for the moment, the day begins with Vincent takes his nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) to school. As some men do, Vincent asks Woody how he’s doing with the ladies at school. Woody replies as most 11 year olds trying to impress their uncle would, with a lie. When Woody hesitates to talk to the prettiest girl in front of the school after being pressured by his uncle, Vincent decides to take Woody on a day long lesson in the “real world”.
From there, the film plays like a film school master thesis...the refreshing “this kid is on to something kind”. Their first stop is at a tailor, where Vincent helps Woody to dress the part. Then it’s off to the market where Vincent meets with Cofield (Charles S. Dutton) to get a stolen identity and paperwork in order to apply for a loan for his crab shack at the bank. It’s this weaving in and out of loving moments and then into the crime world that makes the film interesting. The entire time young Woody sits close by watching, listening, and being influenced. His innocence being taken away slowly, meeting by meeting.
I hate when exposition is handed to you on a silver platter. That doesn't happen in this film even though it could. Instead, this film makes Woody our “eyes in” character. He asks the questions we want to know in a natural flow throughout the day. How did Vincent get out of jail early? Every grown up he deals with seems to be worried about that answer but we’re not sure why. Where’s Woody’s mother? Woody obviously misses her and pines for her return. This helps to create and extend the suspense throughout the film.
As the day moves forward, Woody is exposed to Uncle Vincent’s world of deceit and criminal history. Every journey to a new location builds on the last. Woody learns by seeing and doing with his uncle. The “skills” that Vincent equips Woody with early in the day come into use later on as well. The truth is, Vincent is a morally confused ex-con whose outer dashing appearance cloak his darker thoughts. Showing Woody how to dress and drive his car in one scene, and then how to shoot a gun in the next. Yet, this is so believable because it happens all the time in portions of all communities. Kids have ideals of what manhood means impressed upon them by those around them that may not have a total grasp on it themselves.
The film is a who’s who of black actors with Common, Dennis Haysbert (Fish), Charles S. Dutton, Danny Glover (Arthur), Meagan Good (Beverly), Russell Hornsby (Det. Pratt), and the list goes on and on. Being able to swing to either extreme of the pendulum of morality throughout the film, Common shows real growth in his performance as an actor. Michael Rainey Jr. gives a decent performance as a young boy in need and looking for love.
There are a few scenes in the film that call for you suspension of disbelief, but writer/director Sheldon Candis helps us to move through it with the help of Cinematographer Gavin Kelly’s visual handy work, and Composer Nuno Malo’s brooding scores. Candis is definitely a young director to watch. He has delivered a solid film, that refreshingly makes social and demographic statements without hitting you over the head. By taking familiar stereotypes but not giving an uplifting lesson, the film allows its viewer to have their own takeaways.