Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE

dir Julius Onah
scr JC Lee, Julius Onah
prd John Baker, Julius Onah, Andrew Yang
with Kelvin Harrison Jr, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz, Andrea Bang, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Astro, Omar Brunson, Noah Gaynor, Christopher Mann, Amanda Troya
release US 2.Aug.19,
UK 8.Nov.19
19/US 1h49

spencer butz astro
london film fest

roth, harrison and watts
Strikingly well written and directed, this drama has a powerhouse cast that brings huge themes strongly to life. Based on JC Lee's play, the film uses barbed dialog to grapple with a powerful issue, which makes it intimate and deeply unsettling. Director Julius Onah skilfully cuts through the heavily weighted story to focus on personal reactions and relationships, which helps the film deliver a number of pungent kicks.
The star senior at his high school, Luce (Harrison) has a happy life with his parents Amy and Peter (Watts and Roth), who adopted him at age 10 from Eritrea. But history teacher Harriet (Spencer) suspects his past as a child soldier is still affecting him. As Amy begins to look into contradictory reports, speaking to Harriet as well as Luce's ex-girlfriend (Bang), she grows worried that the truth is becoming more elusive. After years of therapy and rehabilitation, Amy and Peter desperately want their son to be as fine as he seems to be.
The carefully balanced script builds the story subtly, layering intriguing elements into everyday events. Scenes bristle with subtext as well as overt counter-meanings, while the dialog is packed with forceful interaction. This reflects the story's origin on the stage, even as it has been expansively adapted for cinema. Each event piles onto the next, creating a bigger picture no one wants to see. And quite a few people will need to start being honest if there's any hope of moving forward.

Watts and Roth are excellent as parents struggling with the issue of trust, jumping to very different conclusions that both seem believable. And Spencer brings an earthy realism to a character whose actions are questionable even as her motives aren't. At the centre, Harrison is simply stunning, conveying Luce's complex inner life in ways that are charismatic, subtle, engaging and also sometimes chilling. And even at his darkest, he gives Luce a powerful emotional authenticity.

As the story continues, the film explores a number of incendiary issues, including teen sexuality and sexism, racial profiling and ugly political theories about hurting people for the greater good. And none of this is remotely simplistic. Scenes have layers of meaning and multiple perspectives, provocatively tackling topics without preaching a proscriptive message. As the film threatens to become a full-on thriller, it loses some of its dramatic power. But it remans challenging and important, and what it says about the world is seriously wrenching.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 8.Aug.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall