Friday, August 23, 2019

Luce - Review

With enough nuance and mystery to keep even the most observant viewer in the dark, Luce may just be the most fascinating film of 2019. The world is full of problems, social issues that are subjects of endless debate, and this is a film that’s interested in exploring as many as it can.  It plays with these themes in a very compelling and thought provoking manner, and examines how far a person would go to confirm a narrative they already believe.

A liberal-minded couple, Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts & Tim Roth), are forced to reconsider their image of their adopted son, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), after they discover he has written an extremely disturbing essay for his class at school.

Let’s just acknowledge this straight away, the sharp and tightly woven screenplay from Julius Onah and J.C. Lee is remarkable. It crafts a tense narrative around these players in a game with so many subtle moments and twists that it’s amazing how they found time to delve into the themes that the film tackles. The main through line gets deep into the idea of identity and stereotypes, and how expectations for some are formed simply because of what others want them to be.

Luce takes these ideas and runs with them, portraying a story that doesn’t have a clear answer to the questions it asks. It’s not a black and white situation, it’s far more complex than that, and the film manages to get that tone right without making its characters one dimensional in the process either.

Of course, the characters themselves, at least the two main players, are incredibly well realized and intriguing in every moment of screen time they’re given. Octavia Spencer is fantastic, but everyone knows how talented she is at this point. Her character, Harriet Wilson, a teacher who seemingly has a vendetta against Luce, has vague motives throughout the film, and Spencer sells it with a controlled chaos, and an anger that seems buried just under the surface.

However, the true revelation is Kelvin Harrison Jr. as the titular character of Luce. A star in the making, the actor manages to shift the audience's viewpoint with a glance here or a twitch there. Luce is acting, putting on a performance for what people want to hear or see, and its just another element that destabilizes the whole endeavor for the viewer. Is he really what his teacher believes he is? Is he telling the truth? The film, and Harrison’s performance will keep you guessing until the very end.

Luce is a captivating and arresting film, a look at people who get sucked into challenging their reality, or their perceived reality. It’s anchored by two performances that absolutely deserve to be in the awards conversation, right alongside the excellent screenplay, but appear to be destined to be forgotten when the time comes. Luce is a film that everyone should experience, and inevitably take something away from as well.

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