Review of LUV

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Over the course of one day, a shy 11-year-old forms a bond with his troubled uncle.
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Movie Review: "Luv"

-- Rating: R
Length: 95 min
Release Date: Nov 9, 2012
Directed by: Sheldon Candis
Genre: Drama

In its opening sequence, "Luv" introduces us to Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), an eleven-year-old boy living with his grandmother (Lonette McKee). Like all kids brought up by relatives, he desperately yearns for living with his parents. His father is not mentioned, and we learn that his mother is North Carolina trying to get rid of her drug addiction problem.

Woody's uncle Vincent (Common), a drug dealer doing a stint in jail for a drug related offence, is released after serving eight years of his twenty year sentence. Woody immediately begins to look up to him as a surrogate father.

Common has done an admirable job playing a guy who knows he has what it takes to live life on the rough side, but prefers to start a clean life on a legit note instead. On a whim, Vincent decides to drop Woody in his Mercedes. He asks Woody to skip school and spend a day in the real world so that he too can learn to be a man.

Vincent meets up with an old associate Cofield (Charles S. Dutton) to collect documents that will help him get a $150,000 loan for starting a new upscale crab shack in a foreclosed factory. Needing $22,000 to settle an old loan, Vincent is compelled to contact his old boss Mr. Fish (Dennis Haysbert) for help. A quick meeting with his brother Arthur (Danny Glover) helps him get back in touch with his boss, who is prepared to lend him the money provided Vincent delivers drugs as collateral.

Struggling to avoid the temptation of returning to his old life, Vincent tutors Woody about stuff like talking to girls, dressing for success, driving a car, and firing a gun. Common portrays his character perfectly and seems remarkably natural throughout the movie. Michael Rainey Jr. does an excellent job of portraying a boy who is awestruck of his role model in life. He is perfectly subservient to his uncle's unpredictable mood swings and looks like a boy who wants to make the most of the unprecedented opportunity of watching a real man in action.

Vincent's old life comes back to haunt him when an attempt is made on his life during the drug delivery. He is stunned to find out that his old boss may have played a hand in getting him out of the way. Vincent faces Arthur in an unpleasant confrontation where the truth about Woody's mother is revealed. Woody is predictably shocked by this disturbing revelation. However, he proceeds to implement the lessons taught by his uncle and manages to come out unscathed.

Woody's transformation from a shy and uncertain eleven year old to a tough guy who can hold his own against gangsters and drive the getaway car is a bit too implausible. While one can understand that Woody's transformation plays a huge role in the movie's climax, the fact that it happens after just a day's tutoring by his uncle makes it a tad too difficult to believe.

Debutant director Shelton Candis has chosen Baltimore as the backdrop of the movie and does a good job of highlighting the fact that a life in crime may be the best option in places where might is often right, and where the weak and helpless often have no alternatives. Unlike other crime-based dramas, Candis focuses on the coming-of-age aspect as the dominant theme for the movie. This, combined with the surprisingly high profile cast, ensures that the movie does not end up resembling scores of other movies made on the same premise.

The movie's theme changes perceptibly in the second half and action sequences gain precedence over the uncle-nephew chemistry that dominates the first half of the movie. The movie ends with a twist, but the attempt to focus on Woody in the end seemed a bit abrupt and a bit too improbable.

The movie hustles along at a decent pace and manages to retain the attention of the audience until the very end. However, the fact that the plot offers nothing new makes it difficult to remain enthusiastic until the very end. All things considered, the cast performs well despite the limitations in the story.

The background score by Nuno Malo effectively captures the mood on the scene. It remains brooding and sombre even during the relatively light uncle-nephew interactions, and proceeds to grow darker and more solemn as the movie reaches its climax.

One can nitpick and find many flaws in the movie's plot and execution. However, it is a decent and well-intentioned effort with strong performances by the ensemble cast.

Stars: 2 of 5