A freaky thriller focused on racial tensions in high school, Luce just might be a dark horse for one of the top movies of 2019. The film — starring Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Tim Roth — is a thought-provoking piece on social expectations, cultural norms, and parental boundaries.
The film opens with Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a black model student, delivering another one of his crowd-pleasing speeches to the high school. Parents and students alike respect and admire Luce, who was adopted from a war-torn country at 10-years-old. Learning English and excelling in sports, school, and extracurriculars, he appears to have beat the odds and has an incredibly bright future.
But things aren’t as bright as they appear after Luce writes an uncharacteristic essay for history class. When Ms. Wilson (Spencer) asks students to write in the perspective of a famous historical figure, Luce chooses Frantz Fanon, a West Indian revolutionary who advocated for violence. This alarms Ms. Wilson and prompts her to search his locker, where she finds illegal fireworks.
Alerting his parents of her findings, Ms. Wilson is seemingly focused on school safety. But worrying they’ll crack the foundation of trust over a silly class essay, his parents (Roth and Watts) don’t exactly want to accuse Luce of any wrongdoing. So his parents grapple with what to believe — and who to believe.
Throughout the film, the audience is left wondering whether it’s Ms. Wilson or Luce who is actually the villain in this story. Ms. Wilson focuses her teaching on race issues and making sure those disadvantaged have the same opportunities as everyone else. Luce, on the other hand, doesn’t like the way Ms. Wilson goes about her advocacy, feeling that she’s the one picking and choosing who is worth helping.
Part of what makes this film so (un)pleasantly satisfying are the strong performances from Octavia Spencer and Kelvin Harrison Jr. With three Oscar nominations (including a win for The Help), Spencer has become a Hollywood powerhouse in versatility. Amazingly, Harrison is even better. There’s something I can’t quite pinpoint about it, but he delivers one of my favorite creepy performances of 2019. Luce is innocent yet calculated; intelligent yet manipulative; trustworthy yet deceptive.
Luce is a roller coaster of emotions for viewers: frustration, confusion, and disbelief, to name a few. Every character has their flaws; it’s a matter of discovering what they are and how detrimental they can be. And right when you think you’ve figured it out, another twist is just around the corner.
Luce is available now for a one-time purchase of $5.99 (available through February 28, 2020).
Other new movies now available:
Girl on the Third Floor
Door in the Woods
Them That Follow