Saturday, February 25, 2017

Movie Review: MOONLIGHT (Review #2)

A young man deals with his dysfunctional home life and comes of age in Miami during the "War on Drugs" era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

A small, little independent film, made for almost nothing that manages to transcend its limitations and be a full illustration of the power of the cinematic language, a real effort in the craftsmanship of images and sound for emotions, a wonderful piece of cinema, that just fell a little short from being a great one for me.

As writer/director Barry Jenkins has said in many interviews, this film somewhat resembles a lot of his life and acts as a very personal artistic endeavor. This makes for a uniquely developed vision that has a truly personal stamp on it, filled with touches and ideas that haven't been seen before and contribute into making a singular tone for this film, one that never leaves it. Instead, it just looms all over this and confers an importance and an elegance to the film that match the subject matter incredibly well even though they might appear different on paper.

The unique choices are across the board stunning to see: the use of classical music for example is a stylistic element that works so brilliantly on an instinctual level. You can't really put your finger on it, but the music employed and the way it is developed across the three chapters is just one of those simple directorial choices that makes a world of a difference. It burdens this film with an importance and an intensity in the drama that makes for a perfect combination. Every frame of the film becomes filled with tension and unpredictability.

Then you get into the use of color and there is a world to get lost to. This is definitely one of the most efficient visual storytelling efforts I've seen in recent times, the fact that it was so low budget probably made the filmmakers try to come up with the most inventive ideas and they rose to the challenge. The shots, the editing, the way the juxtaposition of colors and composition happens, what do they mean for the story and how they are developed and evolved through it, all of these directorial ideas succeed triumphantly in supporting the concept of the film.

Jenkins just shrouds this film with powerful imagery and material. He finds a poetic touch even in the most excruciating and dark situations, he builds a world made of emotions and themes, every frame drips with context and ideas. The bottom line is that he manages to bring to life a vision that feels organic and complete, his style is original, fresh and he keeps it up constantly and is always interested in what the style can do to help the characters, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, his brilliant and beautiful vision looses some of its impact because of the story. I feel like there are a couple of missing pieces here. I wasn't overwhelmed with emotion when I needed to be, the film isn't the absolutely captivating piece it needs to be. There are a couple of missing beats in the story that really feel absent, the emotional impact of events further down the line is lessened because of a shortly developed central relationship. You'll never hear me say anything in here was forced or unwarranted, I just feel like it wasn't as impactful and powerful as its cinematic language and it was partially a let down.

But, Moonlight has very little to hide, its sheer sense of power in action and emotion is so well built and personally touching that even in its faults it manages to come out as a triumph of directing and storytelling, a really innovative piece of visuals that is sure to be highly influential and overbearingly imitated in years to come.

James' Score: 8/10

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