July 29, 2019

SCREEN | Naomi Watts and Tim Roth Adopt 'Luce'

"America put you in a box."
Naomi Watts Tim Roth Kelvin Harrison Jr. Julius Onah | Luce

Nigerian-American filmmaker Julius Onah's adaptation of J.C. Lee's provocative 2013 Off-Broadway stageplay is a thrillingly dramatic and complex exploration of social prejudice interested in idealized societal expectations of young people of colour in America. Luce uses flawed but layered characters to interrogate its speculative racial themes in intriguing fashion.

Breakout star Kelvin Harrison Jr. makes the whole film work in a difficult role that must seesaw back and forth from wild suspicion to possible diabolic sociopath so carefully. Harrison plays the titular former African child soldier turned model high school student in suburban Virginia adopted from his wartorn homeland by woke parents portrayed excellently by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.

Octavia Spencer as Luce's hard-driving history teacher grounds the escalating events of the film's drama superbly. Her stern background and the justification of her actions is richly layered. Her back-and-forth with Harrison, Watts, and Roth make the unfolding drama so crackling.

Naomi Watts Tim Roth Kelvin Harrison Jr. Julius Onah | Luce

Another standout is Burnaby actress Andrea Bang in a pivotal role that requires her to go toe-to-toe with powerhouses Watts and Spencer without wavering from what exactly the truth of her character reveals about the central unfolding mystery of the film's plot.

Lee and Onah's script constructs the film as a series of suspicious but mostly unseen events and climatic showdowns that reveal some truly spectacular tension. Luce challenges its characters and the audience at every turn as it questions our ideals around identity and tokenism. It certainly keeps you guessing.

Onah's subversive film toys with his audience through stagey, theatrical blocking and captivating performances that dissects progressive politics of race, class, and privilege fluidly. It's a sparkling psychological drama made of fine performances and even more tense situations. What's so remarkable about Luce is how it's full of contrasting perspectives and refuses to definitively show its hand either way.

Luce opens in Vancouver on August 16th.


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