Tribeca 2019 Film Review: “Luce” (2019) ★★★★★

Being a parent does not necessarily mean that one can parent their children in the right manner. It does not necessarily work that way and it’s never meant to be. So what should we do when we notice alarming signals in our children? Do we talk to her or him? Maybe with his teacher? With someone so as to sort out all the strange suspicious thoughts we might have? “Luce”, co-written with JC Lee and directed by Julius Onah, perfectly explores the matter of not only parenthood neglect but what goes beyond it called country value.

Should we differentiate one person from another? Should we punish one to teach others? Does the love and admiration belong to one person, while the rest of the people should try to grasp it from a distance? It marks ten years since Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth) have adopted their son from the war-torn Eritrea. It took them a while to work on his psychological trauma, and now he is an all-star student admired not only by his community, but by the school as well. While the parents thought that they have finally achieved their goal and helped Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to leave all the trouble behind, soon it will be appear that they were wrong. But what steps will they take to correct the situation will be up to them as parents, if they’re willing to step up.

Virginia (Octavia Spencer), his African-American teacher, assigns an essay to the entire class in which Luce comes back using a controversial historical figure, Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth), to justify the importance of violence if that violence proves a point. That was the first sign which made Virginia freak out, so she decided to search his locker in which she finds fireworks that is forbidden in the premises of the school. His teacher does what she felt was right and brings this to Luce’s parents’ attention. But what they do next is quite unexpected and shocking, but as parents was the right thing to do, I guess.

As the story develops, it takes twenty minutes for the audience to feel like being put in a box. The tension being to build up and reaches the highest scale making the viewers getting nervous throughout the film. As for Luce, he’s a brilliant young man who is getting ready for his Culture Month Assembly speech that is to take place in school. But through his eyes, you see there’s something very strange about him, deeply disturbing that should make anyone worried. But as you start understanding who Luce is, it gets more difficult to comprehend his ideas, of his psychological cat-and-mouse game with his teacher. What he tells her at some point is what will change your mind about him – “Why punish one for being a stereotype, but rewarding someone who is not,” he asks his teacher. And that line alone reveals what you will be getting next is not what you expected.

Naomi Watts’ Amy is an overprotective mother. When someone else would pick up the phone to dial 911, she still tries to fight against what lies in Luce’s head. And that, I must say, is not easy. Overall, “Luce” is such a ppowerful psycological drama, it will be hard to feel indifferent. And if you find yourself fully absorbed by it, then trust me, the an eye-opening narrative, superb performances, the score will blew your mind away, will make you feel like somebody grabbed you and threw you against the wall. There will might multiple feelings you will feel throughout the film – anxiety, fear, anticipation of something bad that may come, and even worse, emotionally devastated.

As for the performances, I find it difficult to comprehend how real it was. Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Octavia Spencer and Kelvin Harrison Jr. deliver the most shockingly scary performances as they dive into such complex characters that had so many things to tell. As for the director, Julius Onah breaks all the boundaries by painting an image of stereotypes, debating between what is right and what is wrong. Getting deep into American standards where one can be punished for being bad, but will fail to correct that negative attitude. Instead, it finds the perfect candidate in Luce, who’s smart, has leadership skills, but does not share the same values, that, for instance, his teacher Virginia has.

In the end, there’s a lot we can debate what “Luce” is about or whether his choices are correct, or why his parents are not doing what they’re supposed to. Being a parent or an all-star-student is a full time job not many can handle. And as for the approaches, there is no easy answer to that, and on top of that, Luce’s real story begins not with the start of the film, but when it ends, when you won’t even want to leave the theater to start demanding its continuation, because it was incredibly intriguing and thought-provoking.

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