Chicago Critics Film Festival 2019: Luce
By Andrea Thompson
“Luce” is one of those brilliant films that does complete justice to the complexity of the issues it raises. No one escapes unscathed, but by the end, “Luce” forces us to realize just how impossible escape is for any of us.
At the beginning, it seems like 17-year-old Luce has it all. He's a star athlete, a popular student, and the pride of his school. Adopted as a child from a war-torn African country by suburban white couple Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth), Luce seems to have overcome all obstacles to be a shining example of how love, patience, and hard work can overcome all things.
Cracks appear in the facade so many have idealized when Luce's teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer) fears he may harbor violent political beliefs after reading one of his assigned essays, then discovers dangerous illegal fireworks in his locker. As Amy struggles to realize she may not know the son she's raised and loved (and possibly tokenized along with nearly everyone else in his life), Luce similarly wrestles with the burden of the image he's expected to uphold at all costs. The result is a brilliant mesh of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” meets “Get Out,” with awe-inspiring performances from everyone involved. Octavia Spencer gives what might be the best performance of her career, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. embodies Luce as a young man who may be capable of great or terrible things. Just what will Luce become? The film has no answer.