“Moonlight” Movie Review

With the Oscars on the horizon, why not review some of the Best Picture nominees? Seems like the only logical thing that every other critic is doing. This captivating coming-of-age indie drama- written and directed by Barry Jenkins -premiered at the Toronto Film Festival before its nationwide release on October 21, 2016. Earning back $23 million in profit against its $5 million budget, it also was host to overwhelming acclaim, awards buzz, and was listed as the 4th highest rated film of all time on the website Metacritic, and for good reason. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, which was also supposedly taken from his own real life experiences, Moonlight is the story of Chiron. Chiron is a black gay kid who grows up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, tracing his life over the span of 3 decades. Like a play, it is split up into 3 separate acts, each of which is given a name that Chiron associates himself with and focuses on 3 pivotal moments in his complicated life. Being a reviewer, I try not to use the word “flawless” in the description of a movie’s nature. But in this case, there is no other adjective that can be used to accurately describe this film. Moonlight is, indeed, a flawless movie- on every level imaginable. Where to begin? How about the outstanding, entirely African-American cast? Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes all take on the daunting task of portraying the main protagonist at the different stages of his life. Each one has bright future ahead after the attention this film has gotten. Naomie Harris plays his crack-addicted mother Paula so convincingly. Although she was apparently hesitant to play a crack addict, being a black woman, her portrayal of this troubled single mother was an excellent adversarial element against the 3 actors playing Chiron. Her bickering and yelling are utterly realistic- to the point where it borders on being difficult to watch. And although his only around for roughly a third of the 110 minute-long running time, Mahershala Ali’s performance as the drug dealer/father figure Juan is especially powerful. Completely deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination, while he may appear intimidating and stereotypical at first, it’s shown how much he and his girlfriend genuinely care for Chiron as a child, or “Little” as many call him. On a technical scale, this movie is nothing short of breathtaking. Filmed on a widescreen CinemaScope digital camera, the cinematography by James Laxton is beautiful. Each act is kept distinct by a different film stock, with certain colors being saturated and wonderful contrasts. Specifically, the colors blue and red appear often throughout the film and are especially present in the final act. Many of the scenes are shot from the first-person perspective, really putting us into the shoes of Chiron. What makes it more effective is the fact that many of this respective shots are shown in 48 frames-per-second. But unlike other films that use this format like The Hobbit or Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, it isn’t nauseating. Rather, it enhances the realism of the moment, bringing to light more intensity and more subtle details like skin tone. As for the music, it’s excellent. Nicholas Britell eschews the standards of regular soundtracks instead giving us a beautiful score that is unlike any other last year. The score is very string-heavy, with one particular piece early on in the movie evoking the talent and complexity of legendary composers like Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven. It is also accompanied by a consistent bass playing up in the background that adds an almost melancholic atmosphere. The number one thing that Moonlight should be commended for, though, is how there is little verbal exposition. Almost everything major in the plot is given to us in subtext, like when a teenage Chiron’s first kiss on a moonlit beach is cut away to a shot of him grasping the crunchy sand. Or when Little has an intensive stare off with his mother before she returns to her room, where a man is waiting for her. The beautiful themes of Moonlight– such as masculinity, race, identity, and sexuality -are explored in a tender, completely empathetic manner. By the third act, Chiron is an almost completely different person than he was when we last saw him. But underneath all of the tattoos and hardened, muscle-heavy exterior is a fragile soul who just doesn’t know exactly how to fit in. Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, or otherwise, we can all relate to this story because growing up, we struggled to really find our place in the world. Hell, it took me until the latter half of high school to truly find mine own. A carefully handled, layered emotional drama, Moonlight is a beautifully relevant film that forces us to question who we are as individuals. Hauntingly powerful performances give this deeply human narrative much more believability, making this otherwise small indie film a hugely successful tour-de-force that all human beings need to be watching.

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