LUCE – Review by Susan Granger

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Adapting J C Lee’s Off-Broadway play, director Julius Onah offers a taut, thorny psychological thriller about a young, black immigrant who, seemingly, epitomizes the American Dream.

Adopted as an orphaned, seven year-old ‘child soldier’ from worn-torn Eritrea, Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has made his white, middle-class, liberal parents, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter (Tim Roth), proud. He’s academically gifted, an accomplished debater and all-star athlete at an Arlington, Virginia, high school.

But when Luce’s stern history teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), questions his provocative essay about West Indian radical political philosopher Frantz Fanon and, subsequently, finds a bag of illegal fireworks in his locker, Luce’s reputation is called into question.

Parent-teacher confrontations, monitored by the principal (Norbert Leo Butz), raise pertinent questions about racial identity and prejudice.

While the Edgars argue about how to cope with Ms. Wilson’s accusations, there’s a meandering subplot involving Luce’s Chinese-American girlfriend, Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang), who may have been sexually assaulted at a party.

Another subplot concerns Ms. Wilson’s emotionally unstable sister, Rosemary (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and a third revolves around Luce’s pal, DeShaun (Astro), who was kicked off the track team for drug-related offenses.

Basically, what’s at stake here is: What happens to youngsters who are saddled with unrealistically high expectations? Is Luce a schemer or a sympathetic protagonist? Whom to believe? And where does nature vs, nurture come in?

Nigerian-born director Julius Onah (“The Cloverfield Paradox”) ramps up the suspense of this contemporary morality tale, while everyone in the ensemble is uniformly convincing in their respective roles.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Luce” is a simmering, secretive, somber 6 – stumbling on its on sometimes inexplicable ambiguity.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.