Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Meagan Good
Screenplay by Sheldon Candis & Justin Wilson
Directed by Sheldon Candis (Young Cesar)
LUV opens with a young African-American boy reaching for a gun from a dresser drawer in his room and then pointing it at the mirror. It's a shocking start, but when he pulls the trigger he reveals that it is just a water pistol.
The boy will soon regret wanting to be more than a kid.
The 11-year old boy is Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), who goes downstairs to get breakfast before heading out to school. He lives with his grandmother in what seems to be a nice-enough Baltimore home and he sits down to eat along with his Uncle Vincent (the rapper/actor Common), whom he clearly looks up to. When Uncle Vincent offers to drive him to school (in his Benz, no less), the two set off together on what eventually becomes a tragic day.
I won't go so far as to spoil exactly what happens, other than to say that Uncle Vincent has plans for young Woody. We quickly learn that Vincent is fresh out of jail, having made parole a bit early. His early release hasn't quite sat well with his former criminal associates on the outside, who fear he may have given up some information - aka turned rat - in order to get out of the can.
Upon arriving at school, a young gal has eyes for Woody, but when Woody is too shy to act on it, his Uncle whisks him off, announcing that they are going to spend the day together. The rest of their day is spent teaching and learning, as one generation learns the ropes from the former.
Watching this film, set on the fringes of the criminal underworld of Baltimore, it was impossible for me not to think about one of the greatest television dramas of all time, HBO's The Wire, which was also set in Baltimore. If you haven't seen The Wire, what are you waiting for? If you have, LUV sort of acts as a companion piece, a supplemental volume on inner-city life that sheds a bit of light on how one becomes a criminal, and the desperate cycle that churns out street thugs and robs children of any kind of respectable future.
LUV is presented as such, a sad film dealing with a sad topic. The unusual musical score never lets us feel hopeful for any of the characters. It presents the story as a series of choices that the characters make, but really, what choices do young boys in Woody's situation really have?
Throughout their day, they come in contact with a series of Vincent's old associates, portrayed by a strong supporting cast including Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover and Charles S. Dutton.
As the film rolls along, we soon learn that director Sheldon Candis (who also co-wrote) is frankly trying to say too much. There are more life lessons presented here in the course of a single day than many will face in a decade. Match the weight of these lessons with the depressing tone created by the never-ending, pulsating music and LUVends up feeling force-fed.
LUV is a many splendored thing, including over-bearing and unconvincing. At its heart though, it speaks to a compelling societal problem that has yet to be addressed with any real answers.
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