Cast: Naomi Watts, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth
Director: Julius Onah
Well, Luce is going to be one of those movies that I need to watch again to figure out whether or not I completely understand it or not. There are multiple ways you can look at this movie and the film has a plethora of themes interacting with one another, but none of them emerge as the central thesis of the movie. While the performances from Watts, Harrison, and Spencer build a level of tension not normally seen in smaller films, Luce just needed a little more of a clear direction with its end goal to make it a truly great movie.
The film follows Luce Edgar (Harrison), a model high school student who was adopted by Amy (Watts) and Peter (Roth) from Eritrea to escape conflict. While everyone sees Luce as the type of person every set of parents dreams about raising, Luce’s history teacher Ms. Wilson (Spencer) doesn’t seem to agree with that sentiment. When she discovers some alarming subject matter in one of Luce’s assignments, she alerts Amy and creates a level of distrust between all four characters for the rest of the 109 minute runtime. Where Luce succeeds is in the way it creates tension between every set of characters. There are multiple scenes where my jaw was on the ground because of the decisions that characters made to help themselves or hurt someone else and these moments are what ultimately elevates to its current level. When you see Luce and Ms. Wilson argue, Ms. Wilson sow distrust about Luce into Amy, and then Amy do whatever it takes to protect her son, it creates a tense yet realistic environment that becomes uneasy to watch. When this concept is combined with a creeping score that immediately sets the tone you have the formula to create a movie that shows exactly what it should be showing. Where the film struggles is it doesn’t capitalize on this premise to form a real coherent thesis that one can pinpoint as the purpose of the movie. Is the point about what we will do for family? Is it whether or not violence is an appropriate response to oppression? Is it not to stereotype people based on the background and physical traits? I can see an argument made for all of these points after watching the movie, but none of them stand out as the definitive subject to get the film where it needs to be. It’s a shame, because seeing talented actresses like Watts and Spencer display a unique set of emotions while Harrison establishes himself as an actor to keep an eye on in the next few years and having that momentum wasted on a story that never comes fully into fruition is something that should’ve been worked out before releasing this movie. Maybe I will enjoy this movie more after watching it again, but after my initial screening Luce doesn’t make the most of its interesting concept. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still worth watching because of the amount of tension it builds and the interpersonal relationships, but if Luce just had a tighter script and more concise direction, it could’ve been something great.
Overall, Luce is a step in the right direction for Onah after the critical failure of his last film The Cloverfield Paradox. He still has some work to do to fully realize his potential, but for what we got here, I have confidence that one day he’ll make the film that helps him break out. Luce may not be the type of movie that everyone enjoys, but fans of dramatic thrillers will be able to enjoy most of what Luce has to offer.
Overall Score: 7/10