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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 08.22.19] thriller drama

On the surface, Julius Onah's follow-up to the mediocre The Cloverfield Paradox (trailer) appears to be a typical thriller about a star pupil with a dark streak but Luce is so much more than the average thriller.

Naomi Watts and Tim Roth star as Amy and Peter, an affluent couple who adopted a child from war-torn Eritrea. Luce, as they renamed the boy, has grown into a high achieving teenager, a poster child for what loving parents, doctors and a supportive community can do for a former child soldier. When Harriet (Octavia Spencer), a well-respected teacher, receives an assignment from Luce which she finds troubling, she approaches Luce's parents about it, setting into motion a series of events which ricochets all over the young man's life.

The plot immediately plays into some generalities and viewer expectations about what is to come from the story which is adapted by Onah and playwright J.C. Lee from a play by Lee. It's a movie about big themes and ideas but its not as simple as saying that Luce is about race relations or family dynamics; it's far more complicated and nuanced than that and boiling it down to the largest common denominator is doing the movie and its themes a great disservice.

Luce plays like a thriller; the cinematography from Larkin Seiple (whose filmography includes everything from Cop Car to the ground-breaking music video for Childish Gambino's "This Is America") to the haunting score from Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury which punctuates moments with a haunting melody which plays a number of times but never loses effectiveness, play into genre expectations such as pushing forward the narrative of a mystery or that something terrible is about to happen.

Despite its dressings, Luce sits on the shoulders of Kelvin Harrison Jr. as the titular character and he delivers a knockout performance as a young man who is floundering under the expectations of his family, community and himself. It's a quiet performance that relies as much on the physical performance as on any dialogue and the result is affecting.

It's impossible to qualify Luce as a specific type of movie because it tackles so much within its finite running time. Aside from the deep understanding and careful handling of race relations which Onah brings to the film, Luce also tackles everything from the mundanity of highschool life to the complex dichotomy of the inner and outer self.

Luce is the type of drama that entices you in with the promise of being one thing and delivering on that promise before leading you down a twisty road. It takes minimal effort to follow along but those who do will be rewarded for their effort.

Luce is currently playing select theatres and is expanding to additional markets August 23.

Recommended Release: Do the Right Thing

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