Luce

Review by Glenn Heath Jr @MatchCuts

Directed by

Julius Onah

Starring

Kelvin Harrison Jr Naomi Watts Tim Roth

Anticipation.

“From the director of The Cloverfield Paradox”

Enjoyment.

This morally ambiguous character study definitely leaves a mark.

In Retrospect.

A blunt but effectively forceful Obama-era requiem.

Race and privilege come under the microscope in director Julius Onah’s thought-provoking drama.

Track star, debate champion, honours student: Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr) can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of gushing high school administrators and his wealthy adoptive parents, Peter (Tim Roth) and Amy (Naomi Watts).

The academic laurels and sporting accomplishments are made all the more impressive considering Luce’s traumatic past growing up in war-torn Eritrea as a child soldier. Most of the adoring faces gazing at Luce are white. To them, this handsome, smart young black man is the American Dream personified. But more importantly, he’s a living validation of their liberal convictions about social justice and racial equality.

Julius Onah’s Luce, a strikingly blunt Obama-era requiem, confronts the self-serving underbelly of white privilege and minority tokenism by complicating Luce’s seemingly unimpeachable persona. Ironically, the first shot across the bow comes from a whip-smart teacher of colour named Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), who takes an aggressive and ethically problematic approach to confronting Luce’s potential dark side.

Adapted from JC Lee’s stage play of the same name, Onah’s drama grows increasingly laborious as it revels in the plot mechanics of revenge and betrayal. The best scenes apply pressures of uncertainty to social interactions harbouring an organic connection to racial bias, gender discrimination and school violence. But those moments become few and far between as Luce’s manipulating mind games become more overt.

Still, Luce remains a convincing and confidant example of sustained menace. The version of American idealism it skewers is one based on denial. When Peter tells Amy that “everything’s fine” after both have nearly reached rock bottom, it’s hard not to chuckle, and see the ultimate point of Luce’s funny games.

Published 5 Nov 2019

Tags: Julius Onah

Anticipation.

“From the director of The Cloverfield Paradox”

Enjoyment.

This morally ambiguous character study definitely leaves a mark.

In Retrospect.

A blunt but effectively forceful Obama-era requiem.

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