Title – Luce (2019)
Director – Julius Onah (The Cloverfield Paradox)
Cast – Kelvin Harrison Jr., Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang
Plot – Adopted African child turned star American high school student Luce Edgar (Harrison Jr.) finds his clean-cut status being questioned by his parents Amy (Watts) and Peter (Roth) after his history teacher Harriet Wilson (Spencer) makes a potentially alarming discovery in his school locker.
“When I first met my mother, she couldn’t pronounce my name”
Review by Eddie on 31/03/20
Adapting his own play of the same name, playwright/screenwriter J.C Lee teams up with director Julius Onah to deliver a talk driven and character lead thriller that will most certainly get you talking afterwards but despite its weighty themes and controversial plot points, Luce may leave many cold come its closing credits as we are left too ponder many unanswered questions, that in some instances remain frustratingly unresolved.
Collating a well-rounded cast that includes the always good Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Octavia Spencer and featuring a star-making turn from It Comes at Night actor Kelvin Harrison Jr as the titular Luce Edgar, Onah’s film is the very definition of a slow burning affair as we are thrust into a seemingly small-scale school drama that slowly but surely moves towards a much larger issue in the lives of those it’s affecting.
The less known about Luce’s plot developments the better but suffice to know that from Spencer’s teacher Harriet Wilson concerned meeting with Luce’s adopted mother Amy after she discovers a potentially dangerous item in Luce’s locker following an alarm raising report his handed in to her, the film takes us on a ride that tackles issues of race, identity and stereotyping as we begin to understand more about each of the characters within Luce’s world and what is motivating them to make life-changing decisions in light of alleged issues.
Front and centre to all of this is Luce, a character that is incredibly hard to pin down, drifting from likeable star student to possible deviously motivated trouble maker and Harrison Jr wondrously plays with our emotions and feelings here as he brings this on paper perfect adoptive son to life.
Watching Harrison Jr play off against Watts and Roth is a joy to behold, while his interactions with Spencer’s nosey but well-meaning teacher is a huge reason why Luce is such a gripping film for a majority of its dialogue heavy runtime and for the most part Onah and his cast keep us on edge throughout as we try and predict just what will come out and who will play their true cards first.
Unfortunately for the film, come the endgame you can’t help but feel as though a little too much has been left only half-explored, there’s a lot of themes, issues and ideas at play here and for a film that borders on a near two hour runtime, Onah and Lee had enough time to explore these to a more satisfactory level and the unsure nature of exactly who comes out of this film as the good and the bad makes us feel short-changed as bystanders, making the journey of Luce far more entertaining that its destination.
Final Say –
A uniquely constructed family/high school drama that explores more than its fair share of weighty themes, Luce is a tightly wound thriller with some great performances and ideas but not the final execution to make it the killer offering it could’ve been.
3 bags of fireworks out of 5