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.



Happy Birthday: Tim Roth

timrothHappy Birthday actor Tim Roth

Born: Timothy Simon Smith
May 14, 1961 in London, England, UK

Married to: Nikki Butler (25 January 1993 – present) (2 children)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

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hardcorehenryHARDCORE HENRY (USA/Russia 2016) **
Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ilya Naishuller’s HARDCORE HENRY, produced by Timur Bekmambetov, best known as the director of the Russian action sci-fi big production NIGHT WATCH trilogy moves along with the same pace as Timur’s films, and like them, boredom sets in pretty fast. In HARDCORE HENRY, the novelty of the gimmick film begins to wane after 15 minutes or so.

But still credit should be given to wunderkind music video wiz director Ilya Naishuller for his ingenuity and hard work in keeping his film consistent. And it is difficult work, undoubtedly.

HARDCORE HENRY is shot form the point of view of the protagonist, Hardcore Henry a half man half machine, resurrected from the dead by his British wife (Haley Bennett) for whatever reason that is never made clear, just as it is not made clear why the spouse is a Brit.

The camera acts as if placed in his eyes and as Henry moves around fighting punks, a dozen a minute, as the audience gets to see the beaten up victims, thrown around. The audience also gets to see Henry’s legs and arms and what the man would see. If Henry scales a wall, the audience has Henry’s point of view doing it. Unfortunately, because of the mishap of the past, Henry is unable to speak at the start. Also, Henry is at odds as what is gong on, and why everyone is trying to kill him, led athirst by a guy called Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). Also, a weird guy called Jimmy (Shalto Copley) keeps appearing at odd times, trying to help, or is he?

HARDCORE HENRY does have a good start though. The audience experiences Henry as his arms and legs are screwed on to him, just as he is voice activated by his wife. Suddenly the lab or hospital as the case may be is stormed by Akan. Henry and his wife are propelled out in some space module from a spaceship of some sort. It all works so amazingly, but only till then. It is 15 minutes into the movie.

One big problem of the film is the audience kept in the dark just as much as Henry is. Naishuller make no qualms that action in his film with his camera techniques are his priorities. It is therefore frustrating right up to the very end of the film where nothing is yet explained. Naishuller teases the audience too much, especially with the Jimmy character.

HARDCORE HENRY surprisingly won the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness Public Award for Best Film. Obviously, Naishuller’s film caters to a different crowd than to me, as well as I would think to most critics. The film feels like a video game and it would be assumed more suitable for audiences favouring that vocation.

There must have been a reason films have never been made before from the protagonist’s point of view as in HARDCORE HENRY. A close cousin to this film would be the found footage films with shaky camera that can also be terribly annoying films to watch. The latter has taken a form of success in low budget horror films and this tactic may take off in low budget action film.

The recent MIDNIGHT SPECIAL can be described as a no-nonsense yarn while HARDCORE HENRY as a total nonsense yarn

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