REVIEW: Social expectation and race relations bubble over in impactful Luce

Racial relations drama Luce opens in Canada in the midst of summer movie season, and this searing film just happens to be the most provocative, interesting picture I’ve seen thus far in 2019.

It will have to battle Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time for my favourite of the year, but this indie flick is the first movie of the year to catch me completely off guard.

About a high school senior, Luce, who was rescued and adopted by white parents from a war-torn African country, it examines whether we can ever really escape the things we see and do in our formative years.

We’re given hints Luce was a child soldier, or at the very least, exposed to untold violence until he was seven. Through therapy and a lot of love, his adoptive parents Peter and Amy spent most of their younger years protecting their son and bringing him back to a more normal, calm disposition.

So when their honour student, athlete son is accused by his history teacher, Ms. Wilson, of writing an incendiary paper advocating for violence to solve problems, the parents have to wonder if Luce took his assignment (to assume the role of a world leader and write in their voice) too far.

Or could something more sinister — something from his past — be lurking behind the eyes of the young man?

You will not see a better comeuppance this year than you will from Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Luce. In a film that only gives us pieces of fact, and let’s us make up our minds about the rest, every piece of dialogue, facial expression and movement Harrison Jr. emotes tells us something different.

He plays Luce with such incredible complexity that we manage to sympathize with him, even if we never believe he’s fully innocent as unfolding tumultuous accusations come out against the boy.

Alongside him, Naomi Watts & Tim Roth (re-teamed after their searing Funny Games in the 2000’s) are both fantastic as Luce’s parents. Roth gives his best performance since Pulp Fiction. You can see the doubt imprinted on his face, and his inflections say more than his dialogue ever could.

But perhaps the shining light here is Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as Luce’s concerned teacher, who he dismisses as having her own agenda. She is multi-faceted and absolutely stunning.

Essays could be written on the complexities and intricacies of this disturbing, difficult film, but instead I’ll leave more to the imagination, and simply urge you to witness Luce for yourself.

4.5/5 Stars

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