Reviewed by Tami Smith, Film Reviewer for Shockya
Director: Julius Onah
Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth
Release Date: August 2, 2019
On the surface Luce (Kelvin Harrison) resembles a poster boy for an Arlington, Virginia high school. Coming out of the ashes of war-torn Eritrea, this African foot-soldier was adopted at age seven by a white, upwardly-mobile and liberal minded couple: Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth). After receiving professional help, Luce became a star pupil and athlete, destined to go from high school to a top university. In the opening scenes Luce faces one obstacle: Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) a history teacher. This snoopy, rotund African-American educator is determined to hold her charges to the highest moral standards, even at the cost of their future academic careers. She takes the liberty of informing Luce’s parents of his revolutionary thoughts and potential harmful intent, based on fireworks she retrieved from his locker. Events escalate from this point with teacher/parent/principal conferences, vandalism inflicted on Harriet’s home and explosives set in her classroom.
Based on Luce, a 2013 play by JC Lee, the film version was adapted by screenwriters Lee and Julius Onah, the latter acting as director. They gave the screenplay a stage-like format, composed of conversational acts, culminating in physical and emotional destruction to the characters.
The choice of actors by director Onah could not be better. Naomi Watts, in the role of Amy, comes across like a lioness protecting her cub at all costs. Her character is conflicted and the performance shows Amy as a detective, lover and a professional working woman; Tim Roth playing Peter presents this production with humor it so desperately needs; Kelvin Harrison, as Luce, gives his character mystery, aloofness and maturity, treating his mother as the-girl-next-door; Octavia Spencer, in the role of Harriet Wilson, brings vindictiveness to the role of an underprivileged school teacher who made it after all, without the help white society.
Luce was filmed by Larkin Seiple in New York State, substituting for suburban Virginia. It comes highly recommended for mature film spectators that can tolerate ambiguity.
109 minutes. Rated R © Tami Smith, Film Reviewer