Moonlight (2016)

moonlight-a24-poster

Director: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes

Review Author: Tony

Rating: 4.75/5

Perhaps one of my biggest regrets of 2016 was not making the time to see Barry Jenkins masterpiece, Moonlight. Unfortunately, it had a very limited release in Ireland where only art-house cinemas were screening during work hours. Thankfully Moonlight was granted a second limited release yesterday.

Barry Jenkins has made this film for cinema lovers. I don’t believe this is a film directed at casual audiences – not because they won’t understand it or lack the knowledge of how to enjoy it – It’s because it would be difficult for them to truly appreciate what a complete package this film is on a technical level. I cannot point out one flaw or blunder this film makes. It simply left me in awe.

Moonlight follows the story of Chiron at three stages of his life; child, teenager, and adult. As a child Chiron, then referred to as ‘Little’, is discovered by drug dealer Juan hiding out in a boarded up crack den. Juan takes ‘Little’ for a meal and then back to meet his partner Theresa. Both Juan and Theresa show ‘Little’ compassion and an understanding he has not availed of thus far. We find out that ‘Little’ is an Identity bestowed onto Chiron by his bullies.

Identity is the biggest theme of the film as each of the three chapters is named after Chiron’s various identities. Juan, who has become a father figure and mentor to ‘Little’, tells him to be his own man and to find his own identity. While Chiron’s homosexuality and neighborhood are major factors in shaping his life, Jenkins never overstates these factors or goes down a path which could have made the film stereotypical or predictable. It’s the identities that Chiron chooses that gives the film its weight, and the final act hits like a ton of bricks as we see a very familiar identity that Chiron has adopted that really broke my heart.

Every performance in Moonlight is a revelation. Each character feels so real that I had to rub my eyes and remind myself that I wasn’t in someone else’s dream. It’s easy to identify great performances but in Moonlight I was transported into this world. Mahershela Ali and Naomie Harris both give career-best performances. The diner scene in the last act is perhaps one of the greatest scenes of pure acting I’ve witnessed in a long time. The raw emotion, seamless dialogue and masterful camerawork placed me right there in the moment hanging onto every word these characters said. It is perhaps what’s not said that resonates the most in Moonlight.

Jenkins’ editing captures the streets of this harsh environment with such blistering colour and beauty – the film almost feels like a fairy tale. Night scenes are shot with a heavy blue saturation that is in line with the film’s theme of changing identities. There is a shot where the camera circles around following one of Chiron’s bullies that captures such a feeling of menace and dread – it’s unnerving. Jenkins utilizes the imagery of water as if it can temporarily cleanse and transport you from the harshness of the world. For a year of amazing cinematography, Moonlight is certainly one of the strongest contenders.

Moonlight is a simple story told in a complex matter that shows how our paths in life are shaped by a plethora of factors and circumstances. Jenkins tells a beautiful but tragic tale and shows a deep understanding of the human condition.

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