Moonlight tells the story of Chiron as a young boy (Alex R. Hibbert), a teenager (Ashton Sanders) and as a man (Trevante Rhodes). The story of Chiron is not an easy one, he has to deal with his abusive, and often absent, drug-addict mother and the school and neighbourhood bullies intent on making his life a misery. Perhaps the biggest struggle for Chiron is with himself as he battles to understand himself and who he really is.
I’ve spent quite a long time trying to figure out the best way to describe Moonlight. On reflection I think it’s one of those films that kind of defies description or explanation. It would be underselling the film to describe it simply as a drama. Moonlight really feels like one of those movies that transcends a single genre and instead is something completely out there on its own. I might be overselling it, but I found Moonlight to be an incredibly life affirming and inspiring film.
At its core Moonlight is a fairly standard tale of a young boy, becoming a young man and in some regards it shares a lot with Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, another film that I would consider transcendent. However, whereas Linklater decided to go the long way round and waited a decade to complete his film Moonlight does things in a slightly more traditional way but the film still manages to be incredibly unique. Director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins has chosen to cast three different actors to represent Chiron at the different phases of his life. It would be pretty good going to get one actor putting in a great performance. It’s nothing short of miraculous then that Jenkins has managed to find three actors you perfectly inhabit Chiron. I could very easily have believed that it was the same person at different points of their life.
I just loved Moonlight, I think La-La Land is going to probably end up getting most of tonight’s Oscars but I will really be rooting for Moonlight. It’s just such an assured piece of film making. Ok, the story isn’t full of grand twists and turns but it feels real, and human and that makes it more interesting than a large portion of movies.
I have spent the 24 hours since I saw Moonlight trying to think of something I didn’t like about it and I am still struggling. It’s a film that is superbly written, and beautifully shot. Things that we’ve seen a hundred times on the screen somehow look different and magical. So it looks great, that’s one thing. The soundtrack is perfectly in tune with what’s on screen, it captures the mood and the feel of what’s going on brilliantly. The real strengths of Moonlight are its cast though. I would say that this is one of the strongest ensembles that I’ve seen, it would be great to get one or two performances like those on display in Moonlight but I genuinely thought that everyone was flawless. As I’ve already mentioned the three versions of Chiron are great and for me are all Oscar nomination worthy. I was slightly concerned when Trevante Rhodes appeared on screen as adult Chiron, because he had a rather strong 50 Cent vibe about him. However, the reality is that Rhodes does a brilliant job of capturing the inner struggles and conflicts of a man still trying to figure out who and what is he. Some of the final scenes are heartbreaking thanks to an entirely disarming performance from Rhodes.
It’s not just our three Chiron’s that excel though. Mahershala Ali is great, and rightly Oscar nominated, for his role as Juan; a local drug-dealer who ends up becoming a huge part in Chiron’s life. The bond between them doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time but it’s an incredibly believable and well-realised relationship. The scene at the dinner table is just superb. Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother Paula is a part that could have very easily devolved into tired cliché. Thankfully, that’s not an issue and instead the relationship between Paula and Chiron provides central theme of the film. At times she is utterly repulsive in her abuse of Chiron, whether that is psychological abuse or just her absence from his life. But like real-life it’s not that simple. Throughout everything, throughout all of the neglect and abuse it’s still clear that Paula loves her son very much and that he loves her.
Moonlight is a near flawless film, I could have gladly spent longer in Chiron’s company but what we do see is perfect. It’s a story that is both incredibly complex and incredibly simple but is utterly compelling.