- James Mottram
- 4 November 2019
Naomi Watts and Tim Roth reunite for a cerebral high school drama featuring sterling work from Kelvin Harrison Jr
The last time Tim Roth and Naomi Watts teamed-up, it was for Michael Haneke's 2007 English-language remake of his traumatising home-invasion tale Funny Games. Julius Onah's cerebral high school-set drama Luce lacks the same savagery but, like Haneke's film, it is designed to provoke and needle, albeit on a less visceral level.
Roth and Watts, both on top form, play Peter and Amy Edgar, two middle-class parents who adopted a 7-year-old boy from war-ravaged Eritrea, who was previously raised as a child soldier. Now, after years in therapy, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a model pupil at the Virginia school where he has become something of a mini Obama.
Yet all is not well in Luce-land; his teacher Harriet (Octavia Spencer) has taken issue with an essay he's written in the voice of an historical character – his choice being somewhat disturbing to her. Worse still, she finds a bag of illegal fireworks in his locker, though Luce argues that he and his friends all share these spaces and it was stashed there by another.
Does Harriet have a vendetta against Luce? Has he overstepped boundaries? Gradually psychological cracks begin to show as the film evolves into a tense study of race relations in America right now. Based on the off-Broadway play by JC Lee, who adapts for the screen with Onah, Luce is a high school movie laced with satisfying intelligence.
Stepping up considerably from his last effort, the sci-fi misfire that was surprise Netflix release The Cloverfield Paradox, Onah delivers a film that deliberately leaves its audience with more questions than answers. True, it can feel rather too beholden to its stage origins, somewhat lessening its dramatic impact. But, particularly given the sterling work from Harrison Jr, it's a film you'll keep turning over in your mind.
General release from Fri 8 Nov.