January 22, 2020 – Amy and Peter Edgar (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) have worked hard to raise their Eritrean-born refugee son Luce (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. of “It Comes At Night”) and are justifiably proud of him, until disturbing facts surface.
Luce is an honor student and star track athlete, headed to a top American university. Everything seems perfect, until one of his teachers, Harriet Wilson (played by Octavia Spencer of “Hidden Figures”) contacts Amy and tells her that Luce wrote a disturbing essay justifying violence to achieve political goals. Harriet then searched his locker, where she found illegal fireworks.
Since Luce is a star student, Harriet, who is black, gives the fireworks and the essay to Amy and asks her to talk to Luce. Harriet tells no one else about this because it might damage the school's reputation. Amy is very reluctant to confront Luce. She hides the fireworks in the house, but Luce finds them and intuits what is going on.
When Amy and Peter finally do confront their son about the essay and the fireworks, he has a very slick explanation for both, and he evades responsibility. Around the same time Harriet becomes the target of racist graffiti. Rumors, spread by Luce and his friends circulate that she is psychologically abusive to her students. Harriet's mentally ill sister, Rosemary (played by Marsha Stephanie Blake of “The Laundromat”) shows up at school and embarrasses her.
Harriet soon realizes that Luce plans to get even with her by trying to get her fired. Luce is very good at manipulating people. He has a grudge against Harriet not just because of her searching his locker, but because of what she did to his friend, another of her students. Luce seeks a double measure of revenge, which he thinks is justice.
In a final confrontation between Harriet and Luce, she shows him that he is a novice when it comes to knowing about racism in America, and that he has misinterpreted her actions all along. It is unclear, however that Luce has learned anything from this episode. What is clear, however, is that his parents have learned nothing from it. They cover for Luce and refuse to take responsibility. They have become complicit in his schemes. They prefer to believe the fantasy, not the reality.
This is a really chilling psychological thriller that illuminates racism in American in a different way than more common approaches. It asks the question, “What is the psychological cost of submerging your identity, your own history and your own race in order to become the perfect student, and the perfect son, by white standards?” Luce is a man under enormous pressure to be perfect, so he ends up hiding his imperfections from his parents, teachers and coaches. Harriet earns his wrath by threatening to expose him.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. gives a stunning performance here as Luce, with strong support from Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Nigerian-born writer-director Julius Onah shows as good a feel for this subject as you would expect. The story is adapted from a play of the same name by J.C. Lee, who also co-wrote the screenplay. This film rates a B+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.