Nuanced mind-bender

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr. in an Oscar-worthy performance) embodies the American Dream in every aspect. A star high-school athlete, valedictorian and debate team captain, he’s popular, highly intelligent and easy to talk to. His parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) are justifiably proud of their adoptive son. 

That is until one of his teachers (Octavia Spencer) raises some red flags about what’s truly behind this perfect facade, based on an inflammatory essay and the discovery of some dangerous fireworks in his locker. It seems that one of his hidden talents is manipulating adults. Is the teacher on to something or perpetuating a stereotype?

Gradually we learn of Luce’s previous life as a child soldier in Eritrea, from which he was “rescued” at age seven by his idealistic parents. 

There’s not a frame in this unsettling, fascinatingly nuanced indie by Nigerian director Julius Onah that doesn’t have a double meaning, a hidden significance, an ambiguous challenge to preconceptions. It’s a real argument-starter.

(119 min)