Tough questions are raised, if not addressed, in this quiet yet smoldering drama.
Luce (pronounced "Loose" and played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a star athlete and valedictorian of his class. His adoptive parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) seemed to have done a great job in raising him, having saved him from a war-torn country of Eritrea at age 10. But when his stern history teacher (Octavia Spencer) decides to search his school locker after feeling like she had good cause to do so, she discovers something that makes even Luce's parents question who he really is.
The film "Luce" is propelled by its mostly good performances (Tim Roth seems a bit miscast, and goes in and out of an American accent), and by the issues that it brings to the forefront...issues that are not easily or often addressed on film. But it isn't that compelling as a piece of cinema, and if it feels a bit lifeless on the big-screen, that might be because It's actually based on an off-Broadway play of the same name by J.C. Lee, who penned the screenplay as well. Most scenes consist of actors standing around talking, which isn't all bad when it's good acting, but the medium doesn't really bring anything new to the table.
It's also a fine line between a film being called "manipulative" when it tells you exactly how to feel, and for a film to be referred to as "frustrating" because it doesn't spell things out for the viewer. "Luce" definitely lands in the latter category, with no easy answers offered up. I'm all about films that challenge the mind or lead to long, in-depth discussions post-viewing, and "Luce" is definitely one worth seeing with others for this specific reason.
Octavia Spencer may never have been better, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a stand-out as the complex focus of the film (also a star-in-the-making is the actor, Astro, who has a small but important role in this film as Luce's friend, DeShaun, and who also was great in the Netflix film, "See You Yesterday" earlier this year).
"Luce" keeps things tight, almost to a fault, and let's the audience make up its mind. Either that, or it was too timid to take a stand and actually say something.
Run Time: 1 hour and 49 minutes.
Starring: Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Directed by Julius Onah ("The Cloverfield Paradox," "The Girl Is in Trouble").
"Luce" opens in limited-release on Friday, August 16th, 2019.
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