A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
One of the year’s most acclaimed films, ‘Moonlight’ is an exceptionally well made chronicling of the experience of growing up in difficult surroundings as a gay, black man. The film is split into three segments, exploring Chiron’s experiences at three different periods in his upbringing, from a shy young boy to a bullied teenager, to the final section in his early 20s where his life to that point has hardened his demeanour. All three sections play out like mini movies, telling different stories that reflect the age Chiron is at the time, and the actors cast to play Chiron (and childhood friend Kevin) are all really strong. This approach really works, although I did feel that the final sequence with Chiron as an adult fell a little short in delivering the emotional crescendo the film was looking for.
As a straight white male from a middle class background, I can’t speak in the slightest to the experiences Chiron has, but I felt ‘Moonlight’ achieved what all good films do, in that it committed to the story it was trying to tell and helped me understand and empathise with what the lead character was going through. Beyond this, the film is beautifully cinematic and director Barry Jenkins has constructed his narrative superbly around some wonderful flourishes. I absolutely loved the way the movie was shot, the use of lighting and the important but unobtrusive score that added to the tone the film is going for. There’s a particularly mesmeric scene that emphasises this during the second sequence that depicts a sex act in a really tasteful way which serves to enhance the power of the scene and Chiron’s feelings in that moment.
‘Moonlight’ is Chiron’s film and virtually every scene is seen through his viewpoint, but there are a couple of key supporting performances worth mentioning. Mahershala Ali, in a likely Oscar winning performance, is outstanding as Juan, a drug dealer who takes an interest in young Chiron whilst Chiron’s mother (Naomie Harris) is barely present. I thought Harris was a little too broad in her portrayal, but Ali is superb, particularly when confronted by the inherent contradiction in his attitude towards Chiron as he sells drugs to his mother on the side. ‘Moonlight’ is an intimate portrayal of a gay, black man coming of age, and in Jenkins cinematic vision, it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking.
Directed By: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali