You have to credit writer/director Julius Onah for attempting to create a film that not only precipitates individual thought, but a larger societal conversation as well. Too many films these days are afraid to explore anything unsettling or provoking and simply cave into fear of challenging audiences' perceptions and emotions.
Despite an ambitious attempt to explore the related topics of race, privilege and power, Onah fails miserably in “Luce” — a pretentious mess of a film that fails to captivate and strike a chord with the audience.
Set in a suburban Virginia neighborhood, adopted high school senior Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a stellar student and athlete who is seen as the poster-boy for the American dream, overcoming his difficult past in war-torn Eritrea as a child soldier and adapting adequately to the American lifestyle.
When Luce’s teacher Harriet (Octavia Spencer) reads an essay he wrote for her class that seemingly marvels at African revolutionist Frantz Fanon for his ideas defending violence and finds illegal fireworks in his locker, she seeks out Luce’s adopted parents Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth), leading into an escalated battle to identify Luce’s intentions and motifs.
“Luce” lacks any intrigue and fails to have characters that we are able to care about. Despite having a few interesting scenes, we barely get to know these people despite spending the entire film with them, making it difficult to actually care about what’s going on in their lives. Onah clearly wants us to think about the structures of race and power in modern America, yet his story is so scattered and disorganized that we don’t know what exactly we’re supposed to be thinking about or tested by.
Using a horribly written and lazy script with dialogue that feels forced, Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer give solid performances, yet aren’t able to shine as the gifted actors they are due to their source. Tim Roth is underused — his character barely explored — while Kelvin Harrison Jr. prevents us from empathizing with his character due to his nuance-less, bland portrayal of a rather troubled individual.
“Luce” is the kind of film that could have potentially soared if done properly, yet its absence of realistic drama and intriguing characters makes this an utter failure of a story. The film acts like it’s a deep societal examination, yet its incoherent story and poor script prevent it from succeeding in any possible way.
Final Grade: C-
Dominic LeRose is a writer for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.