Julius Onah's Luce Movie Review: A High School Powerplay With No Winners

Image by Sophia Nicholas from Pixabay
Luce sets up a premise, compelling characters, and a plot that gets more interesting as the story goes along, with a final moment that leaves viewers with more questions than answers. Open-ended movies are often uncomfortable for the average viewer because it often tells you more about yourself than anything the storyteller intended, but if you enjoy a hearty discussion, Luce is the movie for you.

Luce is the darling of his high school. Adopted from the war-torn country of Eritrea (in the horn of Africa) when he was younger, after years of intensive therapy, Luce is now a star athlete and a powerful public speaker. He's also polite, communicates well with adults and peers, and is well-liked by everyone in the school. Everyone agrees that Luce has a wonderful future ahead of him . . . as long as he continues to play by the rules established in the sandbox his parents and teachers have created for him.

Luce's history teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer in another powerful role) is concerned about a paper Luce wrote for her class, in which he condones violence as a suitable method for handling conflict. However, the assignment was the write in a voice of a historical figure. Ms. Wilson, who views herself as helpful, decides she has the right to search his locker and finds illegal fireworks. She shares this with Luce's adopted mother, Amy (Naomi Watts), rather than the principal, and so starts the plot of this dynamic story.

There are dynamics between Luce and Ms. Wilson, Luce and his adopted mother, Luce and his friends, Amy and Ms. Wilson, and all of these power plays are depicted on screen.

The characters, especially Ms. Wilson and Luce, present as complex, multi-faceted individuals who know how to hold back and when to drop the information they are holding close.

As we watch this movie, it's up to us as viewers to judge the motives of each person and find the truth in this convoluted story. By the end, I found there were no clear answers, which doesn't make for a bad movie, but it presents questions which many will find unsettling.

Despite the unclear point, Luce undoubtedly reveals difficult truths about our society the pressure we put upon young people, especially young people of color who succeed academically.