Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
At first glance, Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) may be just too perfect. Not only is he an A-student at the high school he attends in Arlington Virginia, he is a master debater and a star athlete. Beloved and respected by both teachers and students at school, his adoptive white parents, Amy and Peter (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) could not be more proud of him and his accomplishments thus far. Ten years ago, they brought this seven year-old former child soldier from a war-torn African nation to their upper-class suburban home and gave him every opportunity to grow and succeed. Then in almost a blink of an eye, everything changes when his history teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) becomes concerned about a paper Luce wrote that theoretically endorses violence and finds contraband in his locker. Sharing her concerns with his mother, LUCE turns into a harrowing and intriguing tale of race, justice, perception and privilege. Is Luce being unjustly treated or is he a potential psychopath? Is Harriet overly suspicious or does she have a personal vendetta? Are Amy and Peter that blinded by their charismatic son that they would do everything in their power to thwart an investigation? LUCE is a powder keg of a movie about to explode.
Since I started to watch movies – oh so many years ago – I have always gravitated towards those whose genesis were from the stage. Adaptations of plays by Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller exposed me to situations and characters beyond my ken. Adapted from a play by J.C. Lee, who co-wrote the Script with Director Julius Onah, LUCE brilliantly opens the Movie cinematically from its constricted stage roots while keeping the integrity of the dialogue and scathing themes.
I first noticed Kelvin Harrison Jr. at TIFF ’18 when I saw the criminally under-appreciated Monsters and Men and was stunned by his performance and I was also impressed by his turn in JT Leroy the same year. In LUCE, his accomplishments are stellar, provocative and brilliantly-nuanced. Just when you think you have the character pegged, secrets are revealed and his facial expressions change oh so subtly. It IS a star-making role that should be recognized during the upcoming award season. The performances by Watts, Roth and especially Spencer are equally superb. This fearsome foursome of actors elevate LUCE to atmospheric heights and take the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotional and critical evaluations.
You must see LUCE. Its powerful words and themes will resonate for a long time after seeing it.
Elevation Pictures release LUCE Friday, August 9, 2019.