Film Review: ‘Bayou Caviar’

It used to be that when actors tried their hand at directing, the movies that resulted were glorified actors’ showcases, driven by performance but scrappy around the edges. These days, though, even an actor who makes a low-budget independent feature will often use it to try to show off the intuitive reach and power of his filmmaking chops.

“Bayou Caviar,” directed and co-written by its star, Cuba Gooding Jr., is a sunlit New Orleans noir built around the grubby sleazy hook of a surreptitiously shot sex tape in which one of the on-camera participants is a 16-year-old girl. It’s also a character study built around the battle-weariness of Gooding’s Rodney Jones, a former boxing champion whose rise and fall is meant to incarnate all the ways the world conspires to keep a black man down. (The movie ends with Rodney making a highly symbolic fist.) The film is also a meditation on loyalty, an inquiry into the changing nature of fame in the age of TMZ, and a portrait of assorted interlocking sectors of the New Orleans community. Whatever works, or doesn’t, about “Bayou Caviar,” you can’t accuse the film of lacking ambition.