Monday, October 24, 2016

Movie Review: MOONLIGHT

Moonlight is a 2016 film from director Barry Jenkins about a boy (and man) named Chiron who is gay in an environment (a poor, predominantly African-American, area of Miami) where being gay is not safe or socially accepted. Told in three acts covering three different moments in Chiron’s life, this film is an incredible introspective piece that is emotionally powerful, resonant, and complex. This film stars Alex R. Hibbert (Little – 9 year old Chiron), Ashton Sanders (Chiron – teenage years), Trevante Rhodes (Black – adult Chiron), André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, and Mahershala Ali.

I think this film is brilliant in many ways but the biggest positive this film has going for it is how real it feels and how genuinely introspective it is. It is hard to tell a story where most of what is going on is delivered through small moments, small expressions from characters, subtle interactions, and the like. Jenkins does this to a masterful level in this film. There is nothing in Moonlight that comes out and says: “Hey! Look at this!” It just shows it with all the respect of the subject and subtlety it needs to draw the audience fully into Chiron’s world and to give you real feelings about what is going on in the film. This is so rare in film today because of how challenging it is to be successful so any time it is done and executed well is deserving of extremely high praise.

Another thing Moonlight has going for it is the strength of the performances throughout. The casting director Yesi Ramirez really deserves a prize for this film as she not only perfectly found six actors to portray Chiron and Kevin at the three different points in time, but also filled out the cast with quiet but immense talent. First, Mahershala Ali knocks out yet another great performance in 2016. He brings a screen presence and gravitas that sets this film out on the right foot and establishes a power in the film that lesser actors might not have achieved. Additionally, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe establish two power figures in Chiron’s life and who we actually see affect him and the story without being over-the-top about it. These two deliver solid and powerful performances that serve to add meaning and purpose to the story. We also had three actors portray Kevin, an important person in Chiron’s life who is his age, all three of whom provided strong performances as well.

The headliners of this film are the three actors (Hibbert, Sanders, and Rhodes) who play Chiron. Chiron is, by nature, a reserved person. He doesn’t say much, but has a presence that captures the audience attention every moment he is on screen. The three actors do such an incredible job with this as his thought have to come through by subtle physical emoting. This is a skill beyond most actors, and three of them (at all different, but relatively young, ages) achieve in spades. These performances are really what makes the film a success and pushes it into that next level state of excellence.

The film is also very strong technically. It is beautifully shot and generally well-made. There is actually particularly strong cinematography and camera movement in this film. There are many 360-degree shots that develop a sense of trapped-ness as well as build a sense of reality and fullness for the world. It also has clever use of color with the shots that make the film pop and look beautiful despite showing many grimier locales. I also think the writing structure of the film by breaking it up into three discrete acts really added to the strength of the story and was effective with the story they were telling.

A film this good won’t have many negatives. The most noted “negative” for me was something that tied into a positive: the immense subtlety and complexity in this film makes you have to sit and think for some time to get the full sense of the emotion in it rather than getting worked up in the moment. There’s nothing I can think to change about this but I think that quasi-disconnect is a microscopic weakness. There is also one sequence in the water where the camera is getting splashed and floating above and below the water that looked kind of odd and didn’t fit with the rest of this beautifully shot film.

Overall, Moonlight is a real triumph of a film and is going to be viewed by many, and rightfully so, as one of the best of the year. I would not be shocked if this is a major awards contender and I hope people get out to see this film.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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