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Michael Rainey Jr. plays Woody, who learns some harsh lessons about the world in the drama "LUV." (Photo by Bill Gray | Courtesy Sundance Institute)
LUV's driving passion is also its only shortfall

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U.S. Dramatic Competition

*** (three stars)

It seems almost sadistic to offer anything less than four stars to Candis’ feaeture directorial debut LUV.

On the surface, and even hours after witnessing this slow-burning film that combines the ex-con’s plight with a heartbreaking coming of age story, this film has everything.

Judicious use of anamorphic lenses give us a wonderful look at the film’s inner-city, Baltimore setting. The script rarely resorts to the kind of hackneyed dialogue you’d expect from a movie revolving around the criminal life. Most of impressive of all, it boasts a top-flight cast including Danny Glover and Charles S. Dutton with rap-star Common in the central adult lead. Pushing it straight over the top is the sheer delight of watching child star Michael Rainey, Jr. in full, fierce bloom as Woody, nephew to Common’s tortured character of Vincent.

Determined to find his "game-changer," Vincent chooses Woody as his budding apprentice through one day in the life of gritty, crime-ridden Baltimore. Watching his uncle attempt to scrape just enough ill-gotten dollars together to get the restaurant of his dreams off the ground, we see through Woody’s eyes both the gravitational pull of respect and awe he feels toward his uncle. Also achingly present is the strain and effort the 11-year-old boy expends to show no fear as Vincent demands the impossible of him. Pulsating through it all is Vincent’s promise that, should Woody deliver, the little boy will eventually see his long-forgotten mother in North Carolina.

It all comes together like a marvel, except for one sizable failing: too much driving, and too many scenes in the car. As much as Candis’ film is a search for ways to love the people who fail us miserably, it’s also something of a journey for sets and scenes beyond the driver’s seat of a story that, despite this one fault, may well move you to tears.

—Ben Fulton

"LUV" screens again:

• Tuesday, Jan. 24, 5:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

• Thursday, Jan. 26, 8:30 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City

• Friday, Jan. 27, 9:45 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema 3, Salt Lake City

• Saturday, Jan. 28, 9 a.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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