Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris
Running time: 111 minutes
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys look Blue
“Who is you?”
*A quick preface: this is just going to be a fairly brief review as, rightly so, this film has been everywhere and there are much better reviews to read such as this one by Empire or this one by the New York Times.
I don’t really know where to start in this review because it is such a delicate, moving, and unique film that has caused so many new and exciting conversations – even if some were caused by that Oscars blunder! In fact the reason I decided that I would post a review on the film, despite there already being so many, was because of a conversation about it that I had with my friend in which she said: “I’m not sure if I’ll go see it, it’s kind of intimidating”.
I can totally understand why some people feel intimidated by Moonlight; it’s a film that has won 116 accolades, is carried by an incredibly small group of characters, and tackles the idea of going through life as poor, black, and gay. All of these things make the film incredibly unique and some can be overawed by them, when really they are the very reasons people ought to see it!
The entire film is seeping with beauty; it’s hard not to notice every little detail as nothing feels redundant. The story is split into three chapters, each of which is titled after the nicknames of the protagonist Chiron. I’m not usually a fan of films which skip such large periods of time but for this film it was necessary and, much like Garth Davis’ Lion, the transitions were tied together with scenes set by the sea – the gentle sounds of the waves telling the audience that this was a key moment of Chiron’s life and now we get to see another. Throughout all three chapters everything is beautiful; from the disorientating scene of a chase, to the everyday diner, and even to shots showing the reality of substance abuse.
The balance between disorientation and beauty is also seen (or heard) through the soundtrack. It jumps from the melancholy renditions of Chiron’s theme by Nicholas Britell – there are three different versions, one for each chapter of his life – to loud hip hop songs like Cell Therapy by Goodie Mob.
Of course I have to mention the spectacular cast. The three actors embodying Chiron -Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes – did a ridiculously fantastic job. For three actors to portray one character, a character with so much depth, so realistically is just wonderful to watch, it’s sometimes hard to believe they are different people with all their shared subtitles. The development of Chiron is so compelling and it would be nothing without the paternal figure of Juan, whom Chiron constantly turns to even despite his absence. Mahershala Ali, who plays Juan, was the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar due to his win as Best Supporting Actor and so deservedly. This is only one example of how Moonlight has defied the norms of cinema in such an important way.
Naomie Harris for me was the stand out performance as Chiron’s drug-addict mother Paula. Her presence throughout all the chapters is captivating. It would have been very easy for her performance to slip into the flat presentation of an apathetic “junkie” but she doesn’t. She doesn’t even come close. Despite everything you can see her vulnerability and her love for Chiron, the final scene between the two being one of the most moving of the entire film.
So maybe this review wasn’t as brief as intended but believe me, there is a lot more I could talk about: Kevin, the cinematography by James Laxton, the ending! This is a film everybody should watch, not only because of the subject matter and the ground-breaking nature of it, but because, at the end of the day, it is a beautiful melancholy portrait of life.
“A genre defying film” – Dan Jolin, Empire