‘Roger Dodger’ meets ‘Training Day’ in this powerful, if predictable coming-of-age tale from the mean streets of Baltimore. Rapper-turned-actor Common is ex-jailbird Vincent. Recently freed from prison and hoping to make that shift away from his criminal roots to legit businessman, he lives with his mother and nephew, Woody. Driving the youngster to school one morning, he decides instead to let him spend the day seeing how his uncle goes about his daily business.

A stop off at the bank (where Vincent is hoping to get financial backing to open his own seafood restaurant) is less successful than envisioned, and he’s told he needs to first pay back the arrears on his mother’s house before his dream venture can go ahead. With a deadline for payment looming, he takes Woody along to meet with his former shady associates in an attempt to drum up some funds. Unsurprisingly, his efforts lead to dire situations, and Woody is dragged into the very lifestyle his uncle is supposedly retired from.

Seminal TV series The Wire casts a large shadow over this drama, and in an acknowledgment to this, young director Sheldon Candis has purposely cast a couple of faces from that show in cameo roles here. While his film doesn’t get the same dramatic mileage ‘Wire’ scribe David Simon did in that environment, it’s actually a pretty decent effort which only comes undone with its thoroughly misjudged ending.

Candis knows how to get the best out of his actors, particularly newcomer Michael Rainey Jr. who plays Woody. There’s a rawness which translates into a very touching and credible performance. You really feel for the character, who is being taught (what are believed to be) invaluable life lessons from his Uncle when all he ever wants is to be reunited with his absent Mother. Common also does surprisingly well with the material, and even if his character comes across as a reformed figure on the surface, it’s clear through the rapper’s portrayal, that the past is anything but a distance memory.

Candis has also managed to rope in some older, respected black Hollywood actors in supporting roles, with Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover (playing villainous siblings) putting in some sterling work here. Haysbert, in particular, is excellent as the quietly menacing father figure to Vincent. A scene towards the end where the brothers are having dinner with Woody and his uncle is a great exercise in simmering, prolonged tension.

The film isn’t without its flaws though, and you can see where the story is heading from the outset. The rather overwrought score doesn’t help either, cranking up the melodramatic aspects to an unnecessary level. Having taught his tween nephew to drive in the space of a few minutes earlier in the film, Woody’s final moments run the risk of ruining the good work which has gone before by presenting a daft, unintentionally comic ending, which should have been brimming with emotion.

Many of these issues are perhaps reflective of a young filmmaking finding his directorial way, and this is still a very decent effort, with Candis a name to watch out for in future.