At the Chicago Critics Film Festival which was held at Music Box and recently ended, I got around to seeing Julius Onah’s Luce. When I read the synopsis of the movie before attending, I had mixed feeling about how the film would be. However, when I did experience Luce, I viewed the film to be a psychological and inviting drama that is deep with vindictiveness, politics, cultural beliefs, and menacing behavior among high school students. The menacing behavior is all about one boy who wants to prove his point of view regarding the society he is living in and how he believes it should be. The problem is that his role models do not feel they can be there to support him or the conflicts he creates.
The movie is about Luce Edgar (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a very academically inclined student. He is on the track team as well as the debate team, and he always strives to make his teachers and his adopted parents proud. His parents are Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), and they have lots of faith in Luce’s future based on his academic performance and all the recognition his school has given him thanks to his success. However, faith in Luce begins to deteriorate when Amy goes into a meeting to meet with Luce’s teacher, Harriet Wilson (played by Octavia Spencer). Harriet saves an essay that Luce has wrote and it raises a lot of suspicion and concern for Amy and Peter. That is because Luce is descriptive in his essay about why he feels violence in society and other negative elements in life would make the world right. Amy and Peter try as hard as they can to be on Luce’s side and hope he can keep his positive reputation. The problem is that the essay is not the only alarming discovery, but that fireworks were also found in Luce’s locker. This starts to make Amy, Peter, and Harriet start to really have concerns about Luce and question if they can believe he is telling the truth.
There are multiple moments in the movie where Luce is put on the spot about recent conflicts, his views on politics, and how he views his negative judgments. In those moments he does the same thing to cover up his tracks. He tries to over elaborate on why he feels what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. He does so by making odd connections, referencing prior political beliefs, and using his positive reputation as a technique to make the people who are questioning him think twice. The problem, however, is that it is obvious that Luce is being dishonest. While he is indeed lying, his parents and other people who like him at the school are still taking his side, and Harriet is the only person that is questioning him.
With Luce, I found it to be a cat and mouse game between teacher and student. Harriet wants Luce to be punished for his actions in writing the essay. Luce does not want to admit fault and wants to keep his ego. Viewers can tell Luce has an ego because in all the scenes where Luce is talking he is clear and precise about how he believes he is doing something right or how he is going to be on top of the world. He also resorts to being vindictive because of people having mixed emotions about him. He arranges for harsh vandalism directed at Harriet. He causes other people to be depressed due to his rude words and he even starts to put his parents down for being concerned about him. Luce is one of those movies, where one disturbing error is going to have a disturbing resolution or comeback.
Luce should release to more locations by August. Overall, it is quite a worthy movie and is attention-grabbing with its haunting dialogue and cultural elements that the director incorporates with its main character and the people around him. Watts, Roth, and Spencer are also top-notch in this movie. Both Watts and Roth have done a fair amount of films on disturbing subjects, and this one takes the cake. I remember Watts starring in 21 Grams (2003), We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), and Demolition (2015). These films lean on either dishonesty or someone dealing with a loss, so Luce was right for her because she is good at playing a mother who has serious concerns. Also, Roth starred in Captives (1994), No Way Home (1996), and Deceiver (1997). Those films focused on consequences for illegal actions and dishonesty, and most of the time Roth’s character in those films are in the center of the conflict. This time, he is the one trying to figure out how to help his son get out of a dark hole that he has put himself in. Luce is a must-see although it may be hard to watch more than once based on the violent actions that take place in it. I give Luce three and a half stars.