Cast: Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Director: Julius Onah
Why it's worth seeing: Luce, the highly accomplished high school student at the center of Julius Onah's taut thriller-like follow-up to the disappointing The Cloverfield Paradox, is a cypher to his peers, his parents, and, possibly, to himself. After a watchful teacher (Spencer) discovers a bag of fireworks in his locker, Luce (Harrison Jr.) and his adoptive parents (Watts and Roth) are drawn into a series of complicated, standoffish confrontations centered about race, tokenism, privacy, and the expectations placed on gifted black students. The script, which was adapted from a play by co-writer J.C. Lee, sets up a series of occasionally contrived ethical traps for characters to walk right into; like its young protagonist, the film is eager to provoke and push buttons. There's a sealed-off, artificial quality to the world of the story that can get tiring. Still, Watts and Roth, who last played a married couple in Michael Haneke's similarly antagonistic English-language remake of Funny Games, are effective, and the scenes between Spencer and Harrison Jr., given a role that requires playing often opaque psychological motivations, are captivating. Even if the story eventually fizzles out, the performers keep the spark of a more compelling drama burning throughout. -- DJ