Every boy needs role model, a father or father-figure that can help him navigate the complicated and confusing path to manhood. Sometimes that person is a drug dealing ex-con and beggars can’t be choosers. This is the case for 11-year-old Woody Watson (Michael Rainey Jr.), whose mother is absent and his father is nonexistent. Uncle Vincent (Common) steps up to the plate after an eight year bid in prison.
The day begins full of promise: Uncle Vincent plans to take Woody school and then go to the bank to get a loan to open a crab shack. Uncle Vincent gets the brilliant idea that Woody should play hooky and ride with for the day to show him “how to be a man”. Not the worst decision. He takes Woody to get a custom fitted suit, even lets him drive a car. But when the bank denies his loan request, Uncle Vincent decides to do one last drug deal to fund for his dreams…and takes the kid with him.
Naturally things do not go as intended and his former boss Mr. Fish (Dennis Haysbert) suspects that Vincent made a deal with the police to get his twenty year sentence reduced to eight years. Since Uncle Vincent didn’t drop him off at school before things went south, poor Woody is forced to not only witness but participate in a drug deal gone bad, complete with guns, explosions and death.
The problem with this movie falls solely on its script. The film is shot meticulously and highlights the beauty and grit of Baltimore. The cast is full of Hollywood’s elite, including Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, and Michael Kenneth Williams, all of whom are capable of making cliché dialogue believable. Even newcomer Rainey is able to hold his own with Common who gives a phenomenal performance.
What director and co-writer Sheldon Candis did that worked so will in the first two acts was focus on the uncle-nephew relationship. Woody’s admiration for Vincent is unquestionable even as he follows him into one calamity to another and Vincent is determined to do right by him. However by the third act, the character growth halts in favor of guns and explosions and it turns a dynamic coming of age story into a just another “hood tale”. It would be naïve to assume that a film whose crisis solution involves selling drugs would not have violence. However the formulaic way it was done has been done time and time again and will continue to resurface until a more imaginative director comes along and can balance story and action without compromising either.