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High Schooler Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) overcame a nightmarish past as a child soldier in Eritrea to become the definition of the All American teenager. As a valedictorian, track star, and all-around popular kid, his life seems set until he suddenly finds himself at odds with an overbearing teacher Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer). When his loving adoptive parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) become entangled in the suspicions of this teacher, complex questions of prejudice suddenly bubble to the surface, threatening to expose the ugly truths about all involved.
Boasting a revelatory central performance by Harrison (who also appears this year in Gully) and nuanced work from an electrifying ensemble, director and co-writer Julius Onah twists this tale (adapted with JC Lee from his own play) into unexpected shapes, forcing the audience to examine the characters from every imaginable angle. Tension pulls at the screen, allegiances shift, and the viewer’s own biases are used to deepen the storytelling in masterful ways.
The storytelling of Luce was complex, and the conflict was the most captivating aspect of the film, as it was difficult to tell what the truth was and whose side we should be on. This thrilling drama had the audience on the edge of their seats, not knowing if Luce was an all around stand up guy or a sociopath. I loved how the film never gives you a true answer; it is up to the viewer to make their own interpretation of the ending. I especially loved the last 30 seconds of the film. I’m definitely going to see the film again when it comes out to see if knowing how it ends, changes the entire feel and tone of the film. A highlight was the dialogue between the high school students. It was incredibly realistic and it felt like I was in the parking lot with them instead of just watching a movie. I’ve found writers struggle when it comes to writing in school age students because they try to use slang or talk how they believe kids talk currently. It was clear Onah and Lee understood every single one of the characters they were creating, adding even more realism to a truly incredible cinematic masterpiece.
The characters weren’t stereotypical at all, especially because they all came from such intense situations. Luce’s parents lives became all about their child; getting him well adjusted, therapy, etc. They were never able to be ‘normal’ parents. His teacher, while educating high schoolers also dealt with her sisters mental health issues. Luce, a child soldier from Eritrea, achieved the life he came to America for. Nothing about these characters are usual, and the combination of them all made for a phenomenal film.
There honestly wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the film. It was clear the writer had a complex story to tell and told it in a beautiful, tension filled, thought provoking way. I’m more of a comedy fan so I wouldn’t say this was one of my favorite films because of its dramatic and tense nature, but I like any genre if I feel like the movie was done well. This was filmed, edited, paced, and shot in a way that was so incredible and intense that I enjoyed every second of it.
I like end all of my Tribeca Film Reviews with one of my favorite lines from the film, so I chose a quote that stuck with me days after the movie had ended. “America put you in a box. And it’s tight and it’s dirty and you can’t move but guess what? Too bad. We’re all in there together whether you like it or not.“ It was incredibly thought provoking and believable. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, especially since it perfectly tells the story it set out to tell.