Review: Moonlight

Usually, I give warning to my readers whenever there is a film of note that I am interested in seeing but if I want to write about a film that I had the opportunity to see for myself, I take the initiative and offer my thoughts.

For months now, I’ve heard many good things about a movie that has quietly garnered a lot of acclaim and attention, heralded as one of the year’s best and yesterday I managed to track this particular film down, attend a screening and see for myself what all the fuss is about. This film is simply titled Moonlight.

From writer/director Barry Jenkins is an adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s introspective and deeply personal “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” Moonlight is a three-part tale about a young man from Miami navigating his way through various aspects of his life.

Moonlight follows Chiron during the climatic moments of his childhood, adolescence and adulthood, constantly questioning his identity and his place in the world and chronicling his relationships with his crack-addict mother, his surrogate nuclear family with a drug-dealer named Juan and his girl Theresa, and his childhood friend Kevin, whose relationship would evolve to become something more.

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Image by A24

From part i titled “Little” to part ii titled “Chiron” to part iii titled “Black,” Moonlight is equal parts, emotional, haunting, artistically nuanced, technically sophisticated and worth all of the acclaim it is receiving. I can definitely attest to the power of Moonlight because every frame gorgeously captures a gripping sense of ethos and emotional resonance.

What makes Moonlight special is that even though this film has a plethora of moments, those moments don’t exactly grab you in the way to truly excite you. Rather the moments of Moonlight, for example when young Chiron-Little as he prefers to be called- is sitting at Juan and Theresa’s dining room table after an episode with his mother the night before, and he’s asking questions like “what’s a faggot?”, that is one of many powerful moments of Moonlight but instead of jolting you, I found that this movie was more gentle and tender on its audience, at least for me. I was very drawn in and scintillated by the action but it was more soothing and caressing than what I was used to.

Barry Jenkins is at the helm of a project that will linger with audiences for a while. This is a powerful and honest story about self-discovery, identity and connection yet it is truly beautiful to behold. I felt that handling Chiron’s sexual identity was done with a great degree of taste and discretion, particularly in the scene where he and Kevin started out talking to each other on the beach, then they transitioned into kissing and then it became more physical yet vague, the audience knows that they were doing something but what is subject to interpretation; I felt that aspect of the film was handled very professionally and objectively and I credit Jenkins for utilizing such an approach.

Moonlight also features a truly well-rounded cast featuring the talents of Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Alex R. Hibbert, Jaden Piner, Ashton Sanders, Patrick Decile, Jharrel Jerome, Trevonte Rhodes, Andre Holland, Tanisha Cidel, Herveline Moncion; there is quality ensemble acting in this film.

Technically, Moonlight is as artistic as it gets and the quality of the artistic value is sublime!

First and foremost, this film has to feature the best cinematography and camerawork I’ve seen so far this year. James Laxton’s use of tracking shots and extreme close-ups are some of the best I’ve seen since Emmanuel Lubezki. Frame by frame, this movie is beautiful. Hypnotic, if you could take it one step further.

The editing courtesy Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders is first-class. I particularly enjoyed the sequence in the second act where Chiron exacts his revenge on resident bully, the camera follows him from behind from home, to the hallway of his school, to his classroom where he takes a chair and slams it onto Tarrel’s back; it felt seamless, it flowed smoothly and it was effective.

The music of Nicholas Brittel brought a sense of gravitas and elegance to Moonlight that only enhanced its spellbinding nature. I also felt that Hannah Beachler’s production design and the art direction by Mabel Barba, the costume design of Caroline Eselin, Regina McLarney’s set decoration, were all aces.

Could you call Moonlight the next Boyhood? Perhaps because it does wreak of strong familiarity to Richard Linklater’s masterwork but I like to think Moonlight is a prestige picture of its own right. I went into Moonlight ready for one of the elite films of 2016 and I was not disappointed.

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