I’m not sure whether my thoughts on this film are really necessary, but it felt remiss to watch the Oscar-winning film without actually writing anything about it.
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is the coming-of-age story of Chiron, a young black man finding himself and his sexuality in a rough area of Miami. Told in three acts; where we see Chiron as ‘Little’ (Alex Hibbert), a little boy too scared to speak to anyone who is taken under the wing of Juan (Mahershala Ali); as Chiron (Ashton Sanders), a teenager trying to escape from his bullies and as Black (Trevante Rhodes).
Due to the nature of the story, this isn’t a film that is packed full of plot but it remains engaging. Jenkins’ direction, combined with James Laxton’s cinematography means that the film just looks beautiful, and, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, as if you’re really there. There’s something about Moonlight which makes you feel like you are literally standing over the characters’ shoulders and really living their story alongside them.
This is helped by the all-round excellent performances. Mahershala Ali is a worthy award winner for his performance as the father figure for Little and Naomie Harris also delivers a great performance as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother. Really, however, the heart of the film is Chiron, and the three actors who play him at various points in his life. In addition to really looking like they could be the same person, their mannerisms remain the same. This is especially effective when Trevante Rhodes, who is a big guy in all sense of the word, retains some of the awkward mannerisms displayed by Ashton Sanders.
Moonlight is also a departure in terms of what people tend to expect from a coming of age story in rough Miami, and Jenkins usurps the audience’s potentially prejudices very well. Rather than a score full of hip hop or rap music, it has a score by Nicholas Britell and a pivotal song in the piece is a Barbara Lewis song. The central romance, between two men, is also an obvious difference and I have never so wanted a reunion to go so well between two characters as I did in the final third of this film. Moonlight also brings up some uncomfortable truths about the cycles that young, intelligent black men can find themselves trapped in, which isn’t shouty or hammered home, but rather presented as the bitter truth of the world that men like Chiron live in.