Posted May 3, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in Films
 
 

LUV


Baltimore is firmly on the map.  If you’ve seen even one episode of seminal TV show The Wire it is arguably the most important character in the show.  The street corners, the boarded-up drug dens, the harbour and even the gritty back alleys are ingrained in your mind as having the likes of McNulty, Stringer Bell and the dealers walking as if they own the place.  While The Wire may have been fictional it was based on reality and as such LUV feels like it could easily be a spin-off from the show, utilising the city in the same way.  The only problem is rapper-turned-actor Common is no Stringer Bell.

Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) lives with his grandmother, his mother having seemingly left them recently for unknown reasons.  He’s a polite young man who likes to get to school on time in the hope that it will make his grandmother happy enough to take him to see his mum in North Carolina.  Vincent (Common), Woody’s uncle, is just out of prison and staying with his mum.  Liking Woody’s style he decides to take his young nephew out of school for the day to teach him ‘real world stuff’.  You know, how to dress smart, how to talk tobank managers, do drug deals and, if need be, kill someone whose looking at you funny.

Yes LUV is essentially Training Day with a kid instead of Ethan Hawke.  Which on paper sounds quite appealing but in reality makes for a hodge-podge of random incidents without any exposition to truly hook you.  Throughout the film characters hint at things that are never followed through on.  Like why has Vincent managed to get out of prison early, who is the girl he leaves flowers for at the hospital and how does someone fresh out of the joint drive around in a very flashy Mercedes and yet have to beg steal and borrow $22K?

Writer/director Sheldon Candis certainly knows Baltimore and the various idiosyncrasies that make it tick.  Various landmarks flash past the window of the traveling car, everyone seems to want to eat crab and danger lurks in the form of dealers and crime-lords behind every door.  The problem is you expect the cast of The Wire to pop up as well.  And then they do, first off Snoop from The Wire’s bodyguard shows up waving a gun, then Omar turns up, looking all menacing.  But wait.  Is that a badge Omar’s wearing?  Afraid so, here Omar, aka actor Michael Kenneth Willliams, has gone straight and of all things is playing the ‘good cop’, trying to look out for Vincent and reintegrate him into society.  Williams is a stunning actor who makes it work but if you’ve seen The Wire something doesn’t sit right with seeing him in Baltimore waving a police badge all over the place.

The relationship between Vincent and Woody though is endearing.  One minute Vincent can be lecturing his young protégé, the next laughing with him at his haphazard driving ability.  It is in these moments of genuine warmth and bonding between the two where LUV works, almost moving beyond the hackneyed loss of innocence story as Vincent’s desire to protect Woody ultimately puts him in harm’s way.

The cast is rounded out by the gruff but friendly, if slightly sinister, faces of Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover, both of whom bring a sense of fatherly comfort and abusive threat to the film.  Former rapper Common here hones his acting ability, playing a tough guy anxious for redemption.  There are moments when you sense a real affection between him and young Michael Rainey Jr. who carries the film.  His young eyes capture you, drawing you into the dark world he’s being introduced to.  Unflinching in admiration for his uncle to begin with, it’s heartbreaking when he cracks under the pressure he is put under.  But he does strong resolve brilliantly as well.  A scene towards the end sees Woody orchestrate a drug deal and you sense Rainey Jr.’s confidence, standing tall while his eyes belie sheer terror.  Like the kids in Series Four of The Wire you hope this youngster will go onto bigger and better things.

Often frustrating and overshadowed by its choice of location, LUV still manages to keep you interested thanks to a warm central relationship.  The end may slip into the realms of fairy tale but in a way you don’t begrudge it.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com