UK Release Date: 17th February 2017
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writer: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monáe
Synopsis: A young black man in Miami is seen at three stages in his life as he struggles to get to grips with his place in the world and also grapples with his blossoming sexuality.
Hot off the heels of Manchester by the Sea, this year’s sleeper Oscar hit Moonlight offers another story with a dedication to restraint, stylish cinematography and a hard focus on realistic characters. What it may lack in bombast or the fist-pumping, overcoming-obstacles victory you might expect in a movie about a young black man’s journey of sexual discovery, Moonlight more than delivers in raw emotion.
We follow young Chiron as he comes to terms with his sexuality throughout three different stages of his early life, played as a near-mute child by Alex Hibbert, as a gawky teenager by Ashton Sanders and as a macho adult by Trevante Rhodes. Each section is perfectly acted and paced, delivering what feels like heart-breakingly real steps in the protagonist’s journey.
While Chiron is very well portrayed throughout, it’s his youngest incarnation that really stands out. Alex Hibbert’s performance as the nine-year-old Chiron is where the story is most affecting. A heartbreaking dining table conversation with probable Oscar winner Mahershala Ali’s crack dealer Juan, which comes at the end of the first act, is expertly measured and is performed for maximum emotional impact. Barry Jenkins’ camera has to do little but keep itself squarely pointed on his performers, who manage to leave you truly feeling the anxieties of a child learning about himself in a world that is not at all receptive to who he is.
In the same vein as Manchester by the Sea, its admirable restraint could come with the cost of frustrating some viewers. It feels like a recurring theme of this awards season that character pieces aren’t about huge conflict scenes or moments of self discovery soundtracked to an uplifting folk song. Although it’s a welcome change from what we have come to expect, this can leave you wanting slightly more from what you’re seeing.
Moonlight can feel a little slow at times and a criticism that the movie particularly doesn’t go anywhere may be justified. However, the potent performances and pitch-perfect script help make the film a startlingly affecting portrait of sexuality and masculinity from a perspective that rarely gets an airing in the lilywhite world of modern Hollywood.
It’s the restraint of Jenkins’ script, the passion for each and every character and the intriguing story, which means Moonlight will always linger in the mind for days after the credits roll. While Moonlight almost certainly won’t win Best Picture at the Oscars, it is sure to endure as a masterful insight into the lives of people we see far too infrequently on screen.
Pop or Poop?
In a year dominated by the seemingly unbeatable awards behemoth of La La Land, it’s heartening that there is room for a film as unique and refreshing as Moonlight. Strong performances keep the slender, but interesting, storyline rolling and Jenkins knows when to step forward and when to hold back the visual panache in order to let the characters do the talking.
Moonlight doesn’t need to win at the Oscars. It already feels significant and it’s definitely going to be a film people talk about for hours afterwards.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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