Movie Review - LUV

Michael Rainey, Jr. (left) and Common in "LUV"
Written by Sheldon Candis and Justin Wilson, and directed by Sheldon Candis, this movie is a semi-autobiographical look at Candis' relationship with his real-life uncle. David Simon, the creator of HBO's The Wire, gave Candis the idea for this film when Candis casually mentioned his uncle to Simon, and Simon revealed that Candis' uncle was an infamous criminal in Baltimore, unbeknownst to Candis until then. Candis invents a fictionalized account of a man similar to his uncle who spends the day with his nephew. It takes place all in one day and it's about the nephew's realization of his uncle's criminal ways and even his assimilation into those ways. It's basically an all African-American version of Road to Perdition (2002), but set in present-day Baltimore.

The movie opens with a scene that is reminiscent of the opening to Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), which is itself reminiscent to various scenes from Terrence Malick. A naked, 11-year-old boy is wandering around in the woods and the boy's name is Wood. The camera of course follows behind Wood, as he walks. There's a scene toward the end of the movie where Wood has to learn how to eat crabs by cracking them open by hand that is also reminiscent to Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Michael Rainey, Jr. plays Wood, the 11-year-old boy in question. Grammy-winner and rapper Common stars as Vincent, the uncle who decides to drive Wood to school this day. After Wood tells Vincent a lie, Vincent changes his plans and takes Wood away from school in order to teach the little boy a lesson and how to be a man. It means Wood accompanies Vincent as he runs various errands.

As Vincent runs the errands, he drives around Baltimore visiting man after man, making this movie a who's-who of great African-American male actors young and old. This includes Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Russell Hornsby, Michael Kenneth Williams and Charles S. Dutton, basically playing the opposite of what he played in Menace II Society. The way that Vincent talks to Wood in the car initially, I thought I knew where this movie was going, but it actually ends up being the anti-Boyz N the Hood (1991) with a semi-over-the-top, Shakespearean climax.

The reason it's the anti-Boyz N the Hood is because in John Singleton's directorial debut, Laurence Fishburne's character mentors a young boy too but mentors him not to fall into criminal activity or street life. Here, Common's character mentors a young boy to do the opposite. Basically, Vincent encourages Wood into doing bad things.

Unlike with Road to Perdition, the ultimate goal here is more productive and positive. Vincent wants to open his own restaurant. It's a risky investment, but the denial of a bank loan results in carnage. It's an example of how on the edge many black men are. Common does a good job of walking that edge and Candis does a good job of showing how a good man could easily fall on the wrong side.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence, language, child endangerment and some drug content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 34 mins.


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