dir Sheldon Kandis
scr Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson
prd Jason Michael Berman, Gordon Bijelonic, Common, Derek Dudle, W Michael Jenson, Joel Newton, Datari Turner
with Common, Michael Rainey Jr, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S Dutton, Meagan Good, Lonette McKee, Michael Kenneth Williams, Tracey Heggins, Sammi Rotibi, Grover Coulson, John Doty
release UK Apr.12 slf, US 18.Jan.13
12/US 1h34
Big day out: Rainey and Common

haysbert glover dutton
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Luv Skilful filmmaking gives this drama a warm tone, even when events turn dark. And the actors get a chance to deliver seriously wrenching performances. So it's a shame that the story takes a couple of corny turns in the final act.

With his mother away, 11-year-old Woody (Rainey) is being raised in Baltimore by his grandmother (McKee). Then his Uncle Vincent (Common) is released from prison after an eight-year stint, deciding to start his own business and get out from under the thumb of the brothers (Haysbert and Glover) who run the city's criminal underworld. On one fateful day, Vincent takes Woody out of school to teach him how to be a man. But as Vincent's violent past catches up with him, Woody learns a lot more than he expected.

Watching Vincent's inexorable slide back into his old life is often difficult to watch, especially with Woody along for the ride. We know there's little chance of a happy ending, but we can't look away even when the story loses its momentum in a climax that feels like it was written by a marketing team rather than a screenwriter. What began as an earthy character-based drama veers into a series of implausible movie banalities that leave us cold.

Still, Kandis' smooth filmmaking offers intriguing references to hard times and shifting morality. Common has terrific on-screen presence as a likeable Mr Cool who's trying to regain his mojo on his own terms. His interaction with Rainey is enjoyable because Woody's such a compelling character, a gifted boy who continually challenges Vincent's moral worldview, even as he enjoys the trappings of a new suit, learning to drive and firing a gun.

Their odyssey is punctuated by sudden violence, so we viscerally feel Woody's angry, terrified reactions. Along the way, Kandis plays with expectations (a gun in a drawer isn't the usual cliche), and the superb veteran actors add weight to their scenes. So when it dissolves into a silly shoot-out, we feel betrayed. And Woody's disappointment in Vincent is echoed in our own realisation that the film isn't as solid as we thought it was.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Apr.12 slf

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall