When we first meet Luce (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), he seems to be the product of a successful adoption that took him from his native Africa and allowed him to flourish with a doting (and white) American family. He’s a smart kid, a talented athlete, and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him. But what’s really going on?
In Sundance sensation “Luce,” Julius Onah’s big screen adaptation of J.C. Lee’s 2013 play of the same name, that question lingers throughout a drama that also functions as a mystery. When Luce turns in an incendiary essay about African writer Frantz Fanon, praising the controversial Pan-Africanist’s support of violence to combat colonization, his teacher Harriet (Octavia Spencer) is unsettled enough to go snooping deeper into his life.
She doesn’t like what she finds, and Luce (not to mention his parents, played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) isn’t excited about what unfolds either, and as the film winds on, “Luce” toys with the idea that either perspective could be right. Or wrong. Is Luce harboring dark secrets? Is Harriet prying too much into a complex kid? Is the truth somewhere in the middle?
In his B+ review out of Sundance, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote of the film: “That oscillating perspective allows this grounded drama to develop a remarkable degree of moment-to-moment suspense, and it remains an actors’ showcase even as the premise risks turning into a gimmick.”
Kohn also praised Harrison, a remarkable young actor with a bright future ahead of him, and a performer who easily holds focus in a film filled with seasoned stars who have always impressed. “The bulk of ‘Luce’ belongs to Harrison, the breakout talent of 2017’s ‘It Comes at Night,’ who blends charisma with sudden bursts of anger to underscore Luce’s distinctive identity crisis,” Kohn wrote. “His name itself — chosen after his mother couldn’t pronounce his original African one — highlights the movie’s ongoing exploration of the degree to which Luce has reconciled his troubled origins with the assimilation of his teenage life, as well as the role of his blackness in a white family.”
Watch the first trailer for “Luce” below. Neon will release the film in theaters on August 2.