This Is The Story Of A Lifetime

Barry Jenkins

Alex Hibbert
Ashton Sanders
Trevante Rhodes
Mahershala Ali
Naomie Harris

Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young introverted boy raised in Miami. The story is divided into three acts, separated by a narrative time jump. The first act is titled Little – a derogatory nickname given to Chiron [Hibbert] by classmates for his build and diminutive personality – and introduces us to Juan [Ali] a drug dealer who acts as a mentor and role model for the young boy as he struggles with his sexuality and a fraught relationship with his mother, Paula [Harris]. The second act is titled Chiron and shows us how the titular lead [Sanders] is now a teenager dealing with his mother’s further descent into drug abuse, constant bullying and still trying to get his head around his sexuality. The final act is titled Black and due to the events depicted up until this point, Chiron [Rhodes] has moved away from Miami and entered a life of crime before he is contacted by his childhood friend Kevin [Andre Holland].

One of Moonlight’s greatest achievements is how deftly it highlights the struggle of a young black homosexual man without heavy-handedly or exploitatively focusing on his ethnicity or sexuality. Obviously these elements are central to the character and his arc but one could argue they’re not integral to the story; which illustrates the life of an impoverished withdrawn individual. To clarify, Chiron’s story is a vastly complex and internalised one and it would be all too easy for a lesser filmmaker to clumsily mishandle or skew the elements that shape his life, whereas Jenkins gives equal attention to male role models, growing up in poverty, coping with a familial addict and the draw of crime. In other words, the story is written to demonstrate the events of a young man who happens to be black and gay rather than these things happened because he was black and gay. This whole paragraph shouldn’t need to be written but so few films grasp or convey this simple point that it’s worth praising.

Whenever a film features multiple points in a character’s life there’s always the growing potential for ruination owing to casting and plot progression. Starting with the latter, the content depicted in each era can vary greatly, leaving the flashback/flashforward elements feeling weak or tacked on. Moonlight avoids that altogether by drawing up each act like its own short film with an introduction to character and setting, a captivating middle and a satisfying conclusion; all while evenly furthering the overall character arc. As with the narrative, the performances can also differ wildly, leaving this central character a muddled mess. Thankfully the six actors playing the ageing roles of Chiron and Kevin respectively are equally masterful in their own right. There’s enough similarity between them without relying on an unrealistic lack of personality evolution or overt mannerisms/ticks that would identify them to the audience. More than that, there’s isn’t a single bad performance throughout this entire feature. Everyone from the leads to the supports are on fine form, offering interesting and enthralling portrayals; most notably Ali and Harris, who are astonishingly compelling.

On top of the fine writing and brilliant acting, the technical aspects are superbly executed. The cinematography is gripping and beautiful, with each act having its own subtly unique grading. Shots hold wonderfully and often forces the audience to confront actors face-on, in an almost POV perspective. What’s more, the use of focus is exceptional, often utilising an extremely shallow depth of field to blur out Chiron’s world, bringing certain subjects into focus as if stepping into clarity. The sound design plays an equally vital role, if only because Chiron’s word-count is extremely low and the audience is forced to sit in the uncomfortable ambient hum of air conditioners, street buzz or the lapping of the ocean. That is, when Nicholas Britell’s score isn’t dazzling us with its extremely subtle and eloquent melodies.

The only possible flaw is that some will find it slow. I will concede that the film unabashedly progresses at its own pace and makes no attempt to appease impatient audience expectations. As such, if the story requires a build of tension or drawn-out subdued introspective reflection, it will unapologetically take the time to explore them; as well it should. Obviously, this will not appeal to some cinemagoers. Outside of that Moonlight is frankly as close as one can get to a perfect film.

Release Date:
17th February 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoiler-filled paragraph**
Two points to note, both spoiler heavy. The first is how Moonlight does the same thing as A Monster Calls and indulges the audience with a cathartic lashing out but then illustrates the frank injustice as the victim is punished. For too long cinema has tended to reward audiences with an upbeat conclusion to vengeance when the truth of the matter is that it only complicates matters further. On top of that, we have the ending itself, which, contrary to what I’ve just said, bucks the trend and offers us a somewhat hopeful close. As the third act unspooled I was convinced something awful would happen. As such I was extremely surprised and pleased by the maturity with which the final conversation is handled and the simplicity of the two closing shots. We don’t know what happens next, we don’t know if Chiron goes back to his life of crime or if he escapes it. We don’t know if Kevin and Chiron will be together but for that moment, everything is right with the world. Much like the end of Rocky, as we witness the emotional peak, it almost doesn’t matter what comes next.

Notable Characters:
The three iterations of Chiron are astounding in their own unique way. I read that Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes weren’t allowed to meet each other until the film was done, to ensure they did not influence one another’s performances and I commend this action wholly. It is evident these dramatically different portrayals contribute to make up the same individual based on the subtle nuances of the performances, without being the exact same performance. Each actor should be immensely proud as, despite age and experience, all three do an equally commendable job.

Highlighted Quote:
“You might be gay but don’t let no one call you no faggot”

In A Few Words:
“A wonderfully crafted release that borders on perfection”

Total Score: