Moonlight (2016) Review

Moonlight is the newest film by the talented writer and director Barry Jenkins. The film draws it’s story from the stage play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The two worked closely together during the production of the film, and I highly recommend listening to this duel interview before seeing the film. It will give you some insight to the personal experiences that can creep into a person works, and how that hardship can become a thing of beauty when presented in an artful medium.

Moonlight is a film of searing beauty, from the disorientation of the opening scenes, to the perfectly fitting ambiguity of the ending. Every choice that Jenkins makes is the right choice. The film is a flurry of masterfully directed camerawork. The opening sequence and a day full of swimming lessons are two scenes that come to mind. As the camera swirls and peers over the shoulders of it’s actors, you will know that this is going be an experience that you haven’t had at a film before. Jenkins uses sights and sounds to truly draw you into the world of Chiron. The narrative of the film has the feeling of a modern retelling of an old parable. Although, there are few films and stories that share the specific subject matter that Jenkins covers.

The film unfolds in three chapters, i: Little, ii: Chiron, iii: Black. The role of Chiron is portrayed by three different actors that all perfectly capture the essence of who Chiron is, and who he may become. Alex Hibber (young), Ashton Sanders (teenage), and Trevante Rhodes (adult) all do magnificent work. While they don’t share many physically resemblances, there is never any doubt that they are all Chiron. The film is never about what Chiron says, but about his mannerisms; he isn’t much of a talker. The resemblances come through in the stares and the pauses of silence. The film is a collection of moments and many of those are full of silence and quite turmoil. However, there are also brief moments of joy. There were scenes and jokes that drew laughter from the audience. We get a glimpse of young Chiron dancing confidently in front of a mirror and that he is, for that moment, truly being himself. Even that scene contains no dialogue, just the personality and expressions of Chiron.

Jenkins continually proves through out the film that sometimes the best dialogue is none at all. There is never any doubt how Chiron feels about the people around him, and how they feel towards him. The mundane task of walking home from school, sharing a meal with someone, or even making a bed are all given great meaning because of the way the actors interact and don’t interact. Enormous credit should be given to the cast because they are able to say so much with just the touch of a hand or the wiping of a tear. Mahershala Ali (Blue), Andre Holland (Kevin), Janelle Monae (Teresa), and Naomie Harris (Paula) round out the stellar cast. Everyone fulfills their respective role and some of the actors even transcend them. There is a scene where adult Chiron wipes away a tear from Paula’s face, and Naomie Harris is able tell us everything that we need to know in her silent reaction. People will look back at Harris and recognize this film as the one that changed the trajectory of her career. She never steals a scene or overplays the role of a crack-addicted mother, because this is a story about her son, Chiron.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot because it’s a simple one, but the way it is seen through the eyes of Jenkins and Chiron is unexpected and complex. Every experience serves as a way to push Chiron through his life and to his destiny. Jenkins makes it seem as if everything that happens to Chiron is happening for a specific reason, and that reason is that one-day he can be happy and not go through life with his head down. These other characters have their own lives, but those lives don’t exist directly in Moonlight, we are only given a few glimpses. They exist merely as stops along Chiron’s conflicted journey. A haunting score by Nicholas Britell helps convey the sense of a much grander story. It almost feels as if the score doesn’t belong but then you realize neither does Chiron, and all of the production choices make perfect sense.

If you are seeking a film with dramatic speeches, confessions of love, and lengthy monologues you should move along. But, if you are looking for a story that is a deeply personal parable that will have you thinking back about its subtlety for some time, go see Moonlight. If you have ever experienced a moment in anyway similar to one that Chiron has, it would be nearly impossible to not connect with the talent on display. It is a modern masterpiece. 4/4 stars.




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