Film Review: LUCE (USA 2019) ****

Luce Poster

A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student.


Julius Onah


J.C. Lee (play), J.C. Lee (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Though based on a play, the film co-written by the director an J.C. Lee, seldom feels like one due to director Onah taking the audience out of one scene and moving the action around interiors, exteriors and intercutting the acts so that thee are frequent scene shifts.  It is a good tactic which works well.

An all-star high school athlete and accomplished debater, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a poster boy for the new American Dream.  As are his parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), who adopted him from a war-torn country a decade earlier.  When Luce’s teacher, Miss Wilson (Octavia Spencer) makes a shocking discovery, finding dangerous fireworks explosives in his locker, Luce’s stellar reputation is called into question.

The most satisfying element of the film is the way the story and characters grab the audience form the start and never let go.  What ever is revealed is just sufficient to get the audience anticipation going and wanting for more  It is difficult to keep the momentum going and the film thus slag, but jut a little in parts.

The script (and play) also leaves ambiguous points unresolved so that the audience can make up their minds on what actually happened – for example whether Luce actually had fireworks in his locker or was it his friend’s who shared the locker with him.  The answer is irrelevant to propel the story but curiosity is till there with the audience.

Performances are excellent all around, especially that belonging to Octavia Spencer as the history teacher, Miss Wilson.  Spencer displays both he strength, courage yet vulnerability of her character.  As she is finally dismissed as a result of her stand, her loss might turn into another Oscar win fo Spencer who has already won an Oscar for a supporting role in THE HELP.  Waits and Roth are both excellent as the often divided couple but they carry the strength of their roles magnificently.  This is not the first time they play a coupe together.  They id in Michale Hanake’s FUNNY GAMES year back as a couple whose ho i invade by psychotic young neighbours.  Last but not least is the performance by newcomer Sim Sim whose first performance as disturbed young black man is reminiscent of Will Smith’s role in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION.   It is at this point that the film feels like a play fuelled by great  performances.  

Director Onah also demonstrates his sense of humour.  Right after a suspenseful remark is made in the film, the next scene is quick shifted to Miss Wilson having a shower withe the water spraying for the showered, Hitchcock’s PSYCHO-style.  Miss Wilson has a shower can and has a towel wrapped around her as i waiting for something ominous to happen.

The characters are human ad subject to the foibles of human nature.  The love for their son forces the adoptive parents to abandon their good judgement of good and evil in order to keep the family together.  This is not what the audience wishes to see but is what is expected to happen in real life.  Feelings and motions often rule above principles.  The non-compromising non-Hollywood happy ending might not satisfy audience when the film ends, but it is an ending worthy of whether the film’s story is heading.


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