Sunday, September 8, 2019

Movie Review: "Luce" (2019)

Director: Julius Onah
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Luce was born in Eritrea and lived there for the first seven years of his life. Since then, he has been raised by a wealthy couple in America. Over the years, he has become a model student with endless potential. His future is all but mapped out, but when a teacher raises some concerns about a paper he wrote and some items found in his locker, it may force those around him to reexamine their perfect perception of him.

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) delivers a speech in front of his school in the 2019 dramatic thriller Luce
"What the difference between punishing someone for being a stereotype or rewarding them because they aren't one?" (Image Source)
The perfect person isn't always so perfect, but what if it's just your preconceived notions destroying someone's image? "Luce" is directed by Julius Onah, who is known for directing films like "The Girl is in Trouble" and "The Cloverfield Paradox." He also helped write the screenplay along with J.C. Lee, which is based on Lee's own play of the same name. The film tells the story of Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who was born in a war-torn part of Eritrea before being adopted by a wealthy American couple named Peter (Tim Roth) and Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts). Luce has gone on to become an honor student and a star track athlete. Every teacher and administrator sees him as a model student. Those involved in Luce's life may be forced to rethink their perception of him when one of his teachers, Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer), raises concerns about the contents of a recent report he has written and what she subsequentially found in his locker.
Luce 2019 movie still where Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Naomi Watts sit together during a meeting with Kelvin's teacher and principal at school
"It's like I'm either a saint or a monster." (Image Source)
"Luce" is a multi-layered psychological drama/thriller with a lot to say. It explores social issues like class, perception, "passing," racial stereotyping, and privilege. It shows how our preexisting ideas about a person, their past, and their potential future impacts the way we treat them and whether or not we offer them the benefit of the doubt. **potential spoilers** Luce is an honor student who came from a war-torn area of the world. His adopted parents are a well-respected wealthy white couple. He's on his way to a prestigious university and is continually asked to speak at special events for his school. Because of Luce's perceived "status" at school and at home, when Ms. Wilson finds some things that trouble her in his writing and in his locker, instead of heading right to the school's administration, she first contacts Luce's parents. Ms. Wilson has been involved in a similar situation with another black student, DeShaun Meeks (Astro), several months prior. When she searched DeShaun's locker and happened to find a bag of weed, knowing he was without the well-respected parents, the affluent background, and the same future prospects as Luce, she went right to the principal. In turn, DeShaun got kicked off the track team, which killed his only chance for an athletic scholarship, his one opportunity for a better future and a higher education. Ms. Wilson gave Luce the benefit of the doubt, why wasn't DeShaun afforded the same? It also speaks to the (frequently racial) issue of how people get incarcerated for years for minor drug offenses while others get away with heinous crimes because "they come from a good family."

In many ways, "Luce" actually feels like a provocative (human) horror movie. It is thrilling and suspenseful as information about Luce and who he is is slowly revealed over 109 minutes. Seeds of doubt about his character are planted and sprout and grow out of control as it is shown that an accusation is just as damning as a conviction for some people. We are presented with questions like "what would you do?" and "who would we support?" but the answer is never black and white because it never is with morality. Sometimes, doing what's morally right is not always the same as doing what's legally right. Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. give masterful performances here. Julius Onah conveys these sentiments in a compelling and gripping manner that kept us invested in the characters and the story from beginning to end. We found ourselves sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Movie still for Luce (2019) where Octavia Spencer in her classroom addressing concerns she has about her student's paper to Naomi Watts
"You never really know what's wrong with people." (Image Source)
"Luce" will make you think, keep you entertained, keep you questioning, and it will make you marvel at its terrific acting. Keep an eye out for Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the future, he is a massively talented individual who we think will have a brilliant acting career.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
RT Rating: 92%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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