Love notes for young 'LUV' actor
Published: January 23, 2012 06:00PM
Updated: January 25, 2012 02:44PM
Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Michael Rainey Jr., star of the movie "LUV," attends the screening of the movie at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, at the Eccles Theatre. "LUV" is the story of a shy 11-year-old boy who forms a bond with his troubled uncle over the course of one day.

Michael Rainey Jr. just might be the best young actor at this year's Sundance Film Festival, after his compelling performance at the heart of "LUV." He plays 11-year-old Woody, whose beloved ex-con Uncle Vincent, played by rap star Common, teaches him about a life of crime.

As Woody, Michael Rainey conveys whole-bodied respect for his uncle, as well as his disappointment when Vincent unfairly exploits him. Director Sheldon Candis called the young actor's performance "a miracle, a godsend" in bringing to life a coming-of-age story about what children have to witness and endure when adults fail them. It's a fictional tale based, in part, on people that Candis, who also helped write the script, knew while growing up in Baltimore.

The movie serves as a love letter to Baltimore, as well as a homage to loving people even when they disappoint you. "When you find out someone you know has failed, but you love them anyway, let all of us go there together," Candis said before Monday afternoon's premiere screening at Park City's Eccles Theatre.

On the red carpet before the movie, young Michael Rainey was overlooked by the press in favor of familiar faces such as Common, Charles S. Dutton and Danny Glover. After the film and watching Michael's breakout performance, moviegoers were convinced that they had discovered one of the festival's next young stars.

— Ben Fulton