Kelvin Harrison Jr. is Luce, a model black teenage pupil with a gilt-edged future ahead of him. However, when his history teacher Harriet (a superb Octavia Spencer) calls in his adoptive parents (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts), there’s trouble ahead. Originally rescued from being a child soldier in Eritrea, Luce has handed in a controversial essay espousing that white colonialism can only be defeated by violence. Who is the real Luce? The all-star high school athlete and poster boy for the new American Dream or the victim of a violent past that won’t let go?
Nothing is trivial in Luce and every sentence must be weighed against the preceding one.
Adapted from J. C. Lee’s play of the same name, Luce is as about a present drama as you could ask for. With its themes of trust, race, culture, inclusivity and forgiveness, this isn’t a thriller that tiptoes around these subjects but crashes through them armed with ferocious logic, deft performances and a decidedly on-point script. It could just be one of the best films you’ve never heard of.
Unlike 1948’s still electric The Winslow Boy, Luce finds himself dealing with the suspicion of intent rather than the act itself. With everyone walking on culturally-appropriate razor blades, this is where the film gets its tension coupled with its guilt-infused dialogue. As Luce’s adoptive mother Amy, Noami Watts plays a fidgety do-righter whereas, Tim Roth as his father, isn’t prepared to accept everything carte blanche. As the image of their perfect union starts to dissolve, it’s really the central presence of Octavia Spencer as Harriet who keeps you on edge throughout. Like Luce, is she the perpetrator or the victim? Has she framed Luce unfairly or awoken a past that everyone thought was dead and buried?
One thing is sure. Nothing is trivial in Luce and every sentence must be weighed against the preceding one. Promises are broken, trusts are abused and as the twin fears of being a good parent and being a good son grate against each other, Julius Onah‘s adaptation of never shows its hand. Picked out with a sparse score by Ben Salisbury and Portishead‘s Geoff Barrow’s, Luce is as a far more rewarding watch than anything you’d expect from a film so widely unknown.
Irrespective of this oversight, Kelvin Harrison Jr. grabs his role of Luce and runs with it – and when you see him making off in the final shot, trust me, you’ll have a lot to talk about.