Review: Luce

By Caz Armstrong

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was blessed with seeing true prophesies but she was cursed with never being believed. She foresaw the Greek soldiers hiding in a wooden horse but the Trojans stopped her from hacking it open. She was forced to watch the destruction, knowing it could have been avoided if only they’d have listened.

Such is the fate of teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) in “Luce” (2019). She sees the warning signs about one of her students, Luce, but is completely dismissed by his parents and other teachers.

Luce 2

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) was adopted from war-torn Eritrea by a white American couple Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) and her husband Peter (Tim Roth). After years of therapy, he’s now a high schooler excelling at everything he turns his hand to. A golden child on the debate team, running track and with high prospects for college.

“The messages in this film are strong but come across somewhat muddled. Is it about expectations placed on people, racism, PTSD, sexual assault or parenting? Each strand on its own would have stood up but it touches on so many heavy topics it’s hard to pin down.”

But after submitting an assignment seeming to defend the use of violent force, concerns are raised by his teacher Ms Wilson and a complicated mix of trust, lies and frayed family bonds ensues. Harrison brilliantly portrays Luce with genuine creepiness. His expressive face is quick to grin in a disarming winning smile. Or contort in anger and frustration.

We distrust him from the start so there’s never really a question of whether or not he’s telling the truth. It’s more about whether anyone will believe his teacher and what he’ll do next. But Luce’s parents, and his mother in particular, stands up for him despite all evidence to the contrary. Common sense would have them at least letting a teacher – an experienced educator – finish her sentences on the matter. But a mother’s love is apparently not only blind, but it also has its fingers in its ears.

Luce 1

The messages in this film are strong but come across somewhat muddled. Is it about expectations placed on people, racism, PTSD, sexual assault or parenting? Each strand on its own would have stood up but it touches on so many heavy topics it’s hard to pin down what message it wanted us to leave with.

“So the premise and acting are excellent but the tone is inconsistent and the payoff is nonexistent. This film is an important conversation starter and it makes some incredibly valuable points.”

I found something a bit off with the tone. A few times conversations would turn on a sixpence from cordial smiles to seething distrust. An underpinning theme of racial stereotyping suddenly becomes an overstated lecture and is then forgotten. The thriller element builds up extremely well with escalating tension and a pulsing metallic score. But it doesn’t seem to go anywhere in the end and I felt it fizzled out.

I did appreciate the number of women in the film and it felt very well balanced in that respect. Despite being about a man, women have their own arcs and conversations that aren’t only about Luce. It passes both the Bechdel Test and the DuVernay test which calls for black characters to have their own arcs which don’t merely support white characters.

So the premise and acting are excellent but the tone is inconsistent and the payoff is nonexistent. This film is an important conversation starter and it makes some incredibly valuable points. But for me, it just didn’t deliver particularly well.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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