In LUV, Woody Watson (played by Michael Rainey Jr.) and his newly released ex-convict Uncle Vincent (rapper/actor Common) spend a day in Baltimore, Md.
First they get suited up to look like gentlemen. Then Uncle Vince takes a meeting while Woody idly watches. Then off to the bank so that Uncle Vince can get approval for a loan to start a restaurant in a city harbor warehouse.
Seems like a typical “take your nephew to work” day. By the afternoon, however, Uncle Vince’s loan request has been denied, and he is visiting local drug kingpin Fish (Dennis Haysbert). Uncle Vince makes a deal with Fish to move some drugs to get some cash. What Vince doesn’t realize is that he’s been marked for death.
Director Sheldon Candis, who also wrote the screenplay with Justin Wilson, tells the story of a kid who looks up to his uncle so much that he’s created a comic-book hero in his honor. But Uncle Vince proves not the best model. Candis and Wilson show him as being larger than life, then track his descent to unraveled and disheveled.
The audience initially sees Vince dressed sharply in a gray suit, accessorized with a leather briefcase and black Mercedes. Vince takes Woody to the local tailor and suits him up to be a miniature version of his uncle. By the second act, Vince and Woody have doffed their jackets for a more relaxed look. By the third act, Vince and Woody are untucked and drenched in sweat from dodging bullets and running through the streets of Baltimore.
LUV very easily could have become another run-of-the-mill street film with mediocre acting and unnecessary profanity. But LUV manages to be much more than that. As the title succinctly conveys, it’s about the love Uncle Vince has for Woody, and how Vince’s main purpose in this one-day outing is to teach Woody the things he needs to know for manhood.
LOVE OF MOTHER
What is driving Woody throughout this film, though, is not his uncle but his mother, who lives in North Carolina. Uncle Vince keeps dangling a trip there as a carrot to get Woody to cooperate. It is expected that by the end of the film, Woody will get to see his mother. But Candis does not include a reunion in his film — a disappointment to audience members emotionally invested in his story.
Common’s portrayal of Uncle Vince is at first just like the rapper himself: cool, calm, collected, with a bit of an edge. As the audience gets midway through the film, we see Uncle Vince unravel into a heaping mess. Common — usually relegated to the role of quietly mysterious assassin — shows depth and draws his audience in.
Rainey Jr. gives a stellar performance as the painfully shy Woody, who has to quickly find his footing in an adult world and learn how to take care of himself. Without giving too much away, there are things that Rainey gets to do in this movie that would have child protective services calling his parents. Nevertheless, the things experienced by Woody are what a lot of children his age experience growing up in inner cities.
Danny Glover as Fish’s brother seems a good-natured father figure, but his subtle glances give way to a darker character. Haysbert is his usual cool self as Fish, never flinching even when a gun is pointed at his face. Candis and Wilson entice viewers to like Glover and Haysbert, as the pair deliciously give in to their darker sides.
Kudos also to Candis for casting actors who were made famous via their roles on the HBO series The Wire. Michael K. Williams is a good-cop detective who tries to work with Uncle Vince and Woody to keep them from getting killed. Anwan Glover as Enoch is just as menacing as his Slim Charles on The Wire.
It’s not every day that a good movie’s ending disappoints its audience. It’s always a good thing to move audience members to passion. LUV more than makes up for its non-reunion ending with a cast of stellar talent.