Closing Night Film: Luce

2019, 109 minutes, Digital, NR

Language: English

Presented by: Julius Onah

Director: Julius Onah

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang, and Marsha Stephanie Blake

Distributor: NEON

Julius Onah is a Nigerian American filmmaker based in New York City. He’s currently exploring storytelling around the world through his multimedia project Open Continents.

There’s something different about Luce (a virtuosic Kelvin Harrison, Jr.). Steeped in the proprieties of the upper-middle-class community where he serves as the model student-athlete (both on the field and behind a debate podium), Luce enunciates each syllable of his immaculately formed thoughts with an ostensibly humble confidence. Luce was saved from child soldiering in Eritrea and carefully deprogrammed by his adoptive parents, counselors, and school administrators, who now laud his every move because it reinforces their white-liberal-do-gooder notions of self. It seems everyone is projecting on Luce and trying to pigeonhole the young man into perfection, as he’s struggling under the weight of their expectations.


Ms. Wilson (a brilliant and complex turn by Octavia Spencer) seems to see the cracks in Luce’s facade though, and after suspecting him of harboring ill intentions from a politically radical paper he’s written, she searches his locker and finds contraband she interprets as confirming her fears. This appraisal while perhaps not totally unfounded, may reveal some of her own baggage about cultural stereotypes that color her perceptions of both Luce and his fellow minority classmates. Nonetheless, it is this conclusion and Ms. Wilson’s pressing of the issue that ignites a slow-burning standoff between the veteran teacher and one of the school’s most prized students.


Writer/Director Julius Onah crafts a drama that’s tense to the point of shattering, which thrusts viewers into the harrowing story of a young man, whose past is eerily enduring in his present. As the puzzle pieces of Luce’s story align, those closest to him may begin to share Ms. Wilson’s questioning of the enigmatic young man’s intentions. We too are challenged to determine where truth lies as this taut film unfolds, and that frenzied search for answers evidences the excitement of watching Luce—a closing night film sure to spark discussion. (Scott Braid & Mitchell Goodrich)


Sundance Film Festival
Maryland Film Festival