“On the surface, Luce is a study of race and privilege in contemporary America. But it’s more broadly and more subtly about family relationships and the psychological deals we make with others and ourselves. Based on the 2013 play by J.C. Lee (who also did the screen adaptation) and directed by Julius Onah, it is a sometimes stage-like but effective dive into questions of trust and the nature of social responsibility.
Luce (outstandingly played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), is a superstar in his school. Handsome, articulate, high achieving and popular with almost everyone, Luce is the only child of Amy (Naomi Watts; The Glass Castle, Birdman) and Peter (Tim Roth, Selma), a successful and seemingly happy couple who have created a warm and nurturing stable upper middle class family. He’s black, they’re white. Amy and Peter adopted Luce from a war zone in Africa when he was about 7 years old. And the question of how that might have affected him hovers over the movie.
Luce is a favourite of the principal, Mr. Towson. But one of the teachers isn’t so sure. Miss Wilson (Octavia Spencer; The Shape of Water, Fruitvale Station) is deeply suspicious of Luce. She calls Amy in for a private meeting and shows her an assignment he handed in that could indicate that he has a violent and anarchistic streak. And she’s secretly searched his locker and found evidence that might support her theory.
When confronted by his mother, Luce says Miss Wilson treats each of her students like stereotypes and violates their privacy to make points about social issues that reflect her personal viewpoint. And she’s especially hard on the black students, sometimes causing life altering problems.
Amy and Peter love their son, but Miss Wilson makes a strong enough case and provides enough evidence to rattle their perception. Is he the solid citizen, kind, loving child they believe? With his damaging war experiences, is he a sociopath who’s playing them, someone capable of making everyone believe what he wants them to believe? Or is he, with his early success and promising future, the object of a campaign by a teacher with her own issues?
Luce is a terrifically layered drama that aims high and deep, and achieves all of that.” (Karen Gordon, Original-Cin)
“It’s one of the most relevant films about today’s poisoned America and, as it stands, is destined to become one of the very best movies of the year.” (Jordan Ruimy, The Playlist)
“So much of Luce is about what’s happening beneath the surface and between the lines. Everyone says they’re searching for the truth—even as they lie and obfuscate and bend the facts to suit their particular agendas and world views.” (Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times)
“The film is sleek and shadowy, benefiting from the fact Onah chose to shoot on celluloid and driven by stellar performances across the board.” (Peter Debruge, Variety)