Daniel Green Sundance Film Festival

Sundance London 2012: ‘LUV’ review

★★★☆☆

From debut director Sheldon Candis comes LUV (2012), and unconventional crime drama set on the mean, crab-filled streets of Baltimore. Candis largely ensures the cat-and-mouse structure typical of most gangster narratives, instead choosing to focus on the relationship between 11-year-old Woody Watson (Michael Rainey Jr.) and his entrepreneurial Uncle Vincent (played by US rapper Common). Estranged from his mother, who abandoned her son before fleeing to North Carolina, Woody is taken out of school for the day in order to learn the art of “taking care of business” – with life-altering consequences.

For Woody, the confident, charismatic Vincent is a titan among men. When Vincent notices that Woody could learn a thing or two about becoming a man, he brings him along as he ventures forth to open his own business. But when legit life fails to support Vincent’s vision, and his old Baltimore crime boss, Mr. Fish (Dennis Haysbert), haunts him, the pace of little Woody’s manhood lesson accelerates.

LUV’s somewhat flimsy premise is ultimately propped up by two fine central performances from both Rainey Jr. and Common. Their at-times uneasy relationship is a vital cornerstone to the film’s relative success, with Vincent seemingly conflicted between being too soft and to harsh on his 11-year-old nephew. Towards the beginning of the film, Vincent berates Woody for his bashfulness in front of the girls at his school, and the concept of ‘fronting’ to get ahead in life is a constant theme throughout – at one point saving both of their lives. Disappointingly, however, LUV begins to unravel as it moves into its dark final third, transforming before our eyes into the kind of generic crime thriller it had earlier subverted.

Despite still being (loosely) restricted to Woody’s viewpoint on proceedings, his emotional development is pushed to one side in order for his uncle to settle his considerable debts with those he once rolled with. In addition, the final ‘cathartic’ scene is nothing short of ludicrous (we won’t ruin the denouement by telling you the outcome), and whilst it may not derail LUV as a whole, it certainly detracts from the film’s generally consistent gritty realism.

By no means a poor film, neither is Candis’ LUV particularly noteworthy aside from its two central performances. Rainey Jr. has undoubtedly proven himself one to watch, whilst Common has done his acting prospects no harm whatsoever with an edgy, even touching turn. If you can stomach the illogical final few shots, LUV may well be all you need.

For more Sundance London 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green