‘Luce’ (pronounced ‘loose’) lays out many threads; it is an intricate film exploring preconceptions, privacy and the extent to which one can move on from their past. These threads are slowly but surely pulled to reveal the truth about a certain student from whom the film gets its name. Employing a soundtrack fit for a horror film and Hitchcockian suspense, what might be disregarded as simply another politically charged drama offers much more.
Luce, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., is a character with a past of violence and war. Having spent the first ten years of his life in Eritrea as a child soldier, he was adopted by Amy (Naomi Watts) and Pete (Tim Roth) Edgar, a rich, liberal couple in Virginia. Now in his senior year of high school, Luce is a straight-A student, fantastic public speaker, ear-drum-piercingly-squeaky clean and his school’s brightest hopeful.
All of this seems too good to be true, and of course, it is. After her discovery of illegal fireworks in Luce’s locker, and a recent essay in which Luce may, or may not condone politically motivated violence, his History teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), expresses concern to his mother. Amy reiterates that Luce no longer holds radical views: years of therapy have changed him. Harriet is suspicious of Luce, but everyone else maintains that he can do no wrong.
From this point on, prisms slowly shift, gradually aligning so that the light refracts in such a way that Luce’s true nature is exposed. The pacing of this film is controlled by a minimalist orchestral soundtrack, with some contemporary music mixed in. The result is a truly haunting experience that deepens the suspicions we have surrounding each character. A state of uneasiness is maintained, and a little grit is added into the otherwise pristine suburban environment of the film.
The ensemble cast of Luce is second to none and each role is superbly realised, except for Tim Roth’s American accent, which remains a little dodgy to say the least. Despite this, the emotion of each character is real and powerful. Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s portrayal of the sickly-sweet Luce is unnerving; he wears a mask at all times, hiding his true feelings.
Luce’s production design adds to the suburban mundanity that acts as a cloak for the dark underbelly of Luce’s actions. The film maintains a continuity in each location. Luce’s house, his school, his clothes, and the people around him, all seem to blend together. No one particularly stands out. Modern buildings are clad with muted greys and highlighted by small amounts of blue and yellow. This detail is superb and creates an immersive, believable world, while giving a sense that perhaps nothing is particularly as it seems.
Luce asks us to reflect on our own preconceptions. Each character begins as a stereotype; the straight-A student, the liberal mother, the drop out drug dealer. Gradually those stereotypes are worn away and you are left questioning just exactly who is to blame for each person’s fortunes and misfortunes. The world is not black and white, it never has been and never will be.
Luce adds a significant new angle to the current social commentary on race, and may well prove to be one of the most important political films of the year.
Luce was shown at City Screen Picturehouse as their ‘Surprise Film’: the film itself is not known to the audience until it begins. I had no knowledge of this film before viewing it, and found that the nature of the screening was completely different to that of a regular viewing. The world of this film is itself mysterious and dark, this was only enhanced by the mystery surrounding the viewing.