Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Julius Onah|
|Edited by||Madeleine Gavin|
|Box office||$2.3 million|
Luce is a 2019 American thriller drama film, directed by Julius Onah from a screenplay by Onah and JC Lee. The film stars Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Norbert Leo Butz, and Tim Roth. Luce had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019 and was theatrically released on August 2, 2019 by NEON. The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised the cast's performances and Onah's direction.
Adopted from war-torn Eritrea, Luce Edgar is an all-star high school athlete and accomplished debater who is adored by other school students and his parents, Peter and Amy Edgar. However, he has an intense dislike of his history teacher, Harriet Wilson, who is the reason his friend DeShaun was kicked off the running team after Harriet found marijuana in his locker and called the police.
Amy gets a call at work from Harriet, asking her to meet at school. Harriet shows Amy a paper that Luce wrote for an assignment in which the class was asked to write from the perspective of a historical figure. Harriet shows concern that Luce chose Frantz Fanon, a political revolutionary who argued that colonialism can be overcome through violence. Harriet sees this as a red flag, as Luce was a child soldier before coming to America, and someone like him writing this could get him in trouble. Harriet also tells Amy that she went through Luce's locker and found a bag full of illegal fireworks.
Amy shows Peter the paper and the fireworks and both are unsettled but decide not to mention anything to Luce. During dinner, the family brings up Harriet again. Luce accuses her of singling out students to make a point. For instance, one classmate, Stephanie Kim, was alleged to have been sexually abused at a party while drunk, and Harriet often uses Stephanie as an example of a victimized woman. In Luce's case, he is Harriet's shining example of a star black student, which is not how he wants to be seen, arguing that he does not want to be a symbol of tokenism. Later, Luce finds the hidden paper and fireworks.
The next day, Luce meets with Harriet in her classroom over the issue of his paper. He acknowledges his wording but says he just did what the assignment asked, dismissing any true belief in violence. He then makes a comment about fireworks that Harriet interprets as a threat, and she notifies Peter. Peter and Amy confront Luce about the comment he made plus the fireworks being in his locker. He explains that members of the track team share lockers, so the fireworks do not belong to him. Peter thinks Luce is lying to them, while Amy is not sure what to believe.
Harriet is tending to her sister Rosemary, who suffers from an unspecified mental illness. The two have an encounter with Luce, which unsettles Harriet, and later that night, Harriet finds Rosemary trashing the house. She takes her sister back to the "doctor." At a car wash fundraiser, Luce promises to DeShaun that he will make things right. Meanwhile, Amy meets with Stephanie at a coffee shop. Stephanie brings up that she and Luce used to date, something Amy never knew. Stephanie uncomfortably describes being sexually assaulted at a party by several boys, but denies Luce's involvement. Luce later learns from Stephanie that Amy visited her.
The next day Rosemary arrives at the school and has a breakdown in front of Harriet, Luce, and other students, before being apprehended by police. Luce shows a video of the incident to Amy and Peter, which disturbs them. Harriet's home is vandalized that night, and Stephanie arrives shortly after to tell her that Luce sexually assaulted her. Harriet informs the school principal (Dan Towson), and a meeting is organized with them, Luce, and his parents. Luce quickly disproves Harriet's accusations with video evidence, and Harriet's harsh questions quickly make Amy and Peter turn on her.
When Harriet brings up the fireworks to Amy, Amy lies and says that she knows nothing about them, even telling Towson that Harriet deliberately went after her. Towson accepts this, and the meeting ends after Stephanie leaves, despite Harriet wanting her to speak to Luce's parents. At night, fireworks explode inside of Harriet's desk, causing a fire. Harriet meets with Towson and is told she is fired due to heavy suspicion against her. After learning of the incident, Amy runs home to find the fireworks, only to discover in horror that they are gone. Peter believes Luce was involved, but Amy insists that they will stand up for their son and not come to Harriet's defense.
Luce confronts Harriet at her house. He comes forward to her with how she ruined DeShaun's athletic career and how she put Luce on a pedestal. Harriet defends her position, but Luce thinks all she did was stereotype them. Harriet then orders him out of her house.
Outside, Amy follows Luce to a hideout, where he meets with Stephanie to have sex with her. Stephanie sees Amy outside the window but does not react. When Amy returns home to the spot where she hid the fireworks, Luce returns and reconciles with Amy. Later, Luce gives a speech at school, where he thanks Amy and Peter for raising him before going on a run where his face contorts in rage.
- Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Luce Edgar
- Octavia Spencer as Harriet Wilson
- Naomi Watts as Amy Edgar
- Tim Roth as Peter Edgar
- Brian Bradley as DeShaun Meeks
- Andrea Bang as Stephanie Kim
- Norbert Leo Butz as Dan Towson
- Marsha Stephanie Blake as Rosemary Wilson
- Noah Gaynor as Kenny Orlicki
- Omar Brunson as Corey Johnson
- Christopher Mann as Coach Reeves
In November 2017, it was announced Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Tim Roth had joined the cast of the film, with Julius Onah directing from a screenplay by himself and JC Lee. John Baker, Onah, and Andrew Yang served as producers on the film with Rob Feng, Amber Wang, and Lee served as executive producers under their Dream Factory Group banner. In December 2017, Brian Bradley, also known as Stro, joined the cast of the film. Onah spoke about the importance of rehearsal with actors to his process. The actors rehearsed with each other before filming to create deeper familiarity, this includes a rehearsal in which all the young actors joined up in New York to hang out and develop a deeper backstory and understanding of their characters. The film was shot on 35mm film.
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2019. Shortly after, NEON & Topic Studios acquired distribution rights to the film. It was released on August 2, 2019.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 146 reviews, with an average rating of 7.73/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Luce brings a stellar ensemble to bear on a satisfyingly complex story that addresses its timely themes in thought-provoking fashion." On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The Guardian's Benjamin Lee said of Kelvin Harrison Jr.'s performance, "It's an utterly mesmeric turn, filled with crushing vulnerability and insidious menace, in a brutal, dramatically explosive film that challenges preconceptions and leaves us with difficult, troubling questions to consider." Critic Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com praises the film commenting, "It reminded me of early Mamet work although with a commentary on race he could never attempt. All of this, and it’s got one of the best ensemble performances of Sundance 2019. This is one to watch for." He went on to specifically praise Harrison Jr.'s performance as "the real deal... flat out brilliant."
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