Barry Jenkins / Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae / Drama / 2017 / 15 / 111mins
In one of the most hotly contested Oscar battles this century, Moonlight were the (eventual) winners. It’s no wonder – director Barry Jenkins has created a drama that grasps your attention from start to finish.
Moonlight tells the tale of Chiron’s troubling life in Miami where he comes to terms with his identity, sexuality, poverty, his drug taking mother Paula (Naomie Harris) and being subjected to bullying. Drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) helps a young Chiron accept his place in the world whilst his complicated relationship with best friend Kevin unfolds.
A strong script and strong performances ensures Moonlight remains masterfully consistent. It’s layered plot giving substance to a complicated tale deserves the highest praise. The intricacies of life in the suburbs of Miami are given fresh relevance. The story is portrayed with the same nuance and compassion as any other film about hetero love or white poverty-stricken lives would. This simplistic, almost natural, approach is what makes Moonlight so inspiring.
To use a triptych to examine Chiron’s youth (portrayed by Alex Hibbert), a turning point in his teen years (Ashton Sanders) and a defining adult reunion (Trevante Rhodes) is perfect. Emotional progression draws us to Chiron. Attributing dynamic shots on top of this creates vivid portraits of each character as well as our main man.
Jenkins mentioned that although the actors may not look alike, he cast them solely on ‘the vulnerability in their eyes’. Each actor conveys the same raw emotions that define Chiron’s character, their physique and personal quirks a metaphorical embodiment of Chiron’s emotions at that stage in his life.
Ali’s performance is iconic. He is every inch the part, demolishing the cliches surrounding his African American identity whilst depicting a torn anti-hero. Harris is a close second, slowly spiralling into a madness that seems real.
This is a low-budget film, and sometimes it shines through. The handheld camera shots can be dizzying or slightly out of focus. For something so tough to chew, it’s a relief that Moonlight doesn’t break the two hour mark, but even at this pace it’s still borderline traumatic. One complaint would be that there’s no obvious climax and little end product. It’s jarring, but the film’s messages and themes still work just as well.
Moonlight does something that no other film does – to make LGBT issues in the black community seem so commonplace. It’s not all hetero, and it’s not all white. There is a realness to the lasting impact of this landmark film and it is without a doubt a better cinematic essay than La La Land.
A serious film that demands your attention, Moonlight is not a stroll in the park. But with such a talented cast and array of social commentary, there are few films on a par around today. Without a doubt the LGBT masterpiece of the decade.
Film as a Film – 5 / Target Audience – 5 / General Audience – 3
Moonlight is in cinemas now
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