Moonlight Movie Review
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Moonlight is a 2016 drama film by writer-director Barry Jenkins based loosely on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. It stars Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes as protagonist Chiron throughout his youth, adolescence, and early adulthood, respectively. Chiron’s struggles—namely his drug-addicted mother, ruthless school bullies, and sexual identity—guide the watcher through his life on the edge of crime-ridden Miami neighborhoods. With a flawless balance of important dramatic themes and beautiful visuals and music, Moonlight is a must-see and easily one of the strongest contenders for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The film is split into three parts: Little, Chiron, and Black. Each is a name the protagonist is sometimes unwillingly known by throughout three distinct stages of his life. As Little, he forms a bond with well-meaning drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who he meets after fleeing from bullies. The couple takes him in when they learn of his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), who does not take care of him. As the film progresses into its second part, Chiron is still bullied and has grown even closer to Juan and Teresa. This section details Chiron’s exploration of his own sexuality and his mother’s worsening addiction. In the third and final part of the film, Chiron, now known as Black, has grown up and is living in Atlanta. He returns to Miami and finds closure in some of the people and events from his past.
There’s a reason that a film like Moonlight is nominated for several Academy Awards. After last year’s “whitewash,” it’s refreshing to see a diverse cast and crew receive recognition for such an impressive feat, especially considering that the film had a budget of only five million dollars. Moonlight is a story of love, acceptance, and hardship—themes that have all been explored individually in other films with diverse casts, but have been masterfully combined here to create a truly beautiful product.
The cast create incredibly realistic characters through vulnerable performances that make Moonlight, at times, into a “slice-of-life” piece. It’s no surprise that both Ali and Harris are nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively, as the two created some of the most tense and important moments in the film. Each actor that plays Chiron truly brings the character to life and allows us to see inside the mind of someone scared, confused, and lost, especially considering the relatively small amount of dialogue that Chiron delivers throughout the film. Each character is depicted through meaningful and memorable performances by a very talented cast.
Both in visuals and sound, Moonlight is stunning. Cinematographer James Laxton doesn’t shy away from vibrant colors, consistently matching them with the tone of the film in each of its sections. He experiments with shallow focus in order to give the observer a very up-close-and-personal view of the film’s characters and capture even their tiniest mannerisms. Even the poorer streets of Miami are made to look beautiful in the film’s smooth and fluid visual style. Composer Nicholas Britell created the score for the film, which seamlessly combines the characteristics of classical music with the “chopped-and-screwed” technique distinctive of alternative hip hop music. Britell creates a very unique and supremely appealing sound that fits perfectly into the film’s universe and effectively backs up its dark subject matter.
Moonlight is easily one of the top films of 2017, providing audiences with a product representative of groups of people and ways of life currently underrepresented in film. With such skillfully-executed performances, visuals, music, and writing, the film is a must-see for film-lovers and casual filmgoers alike.
UPDATE: On February 26th, Moonlight won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Adapted Screenplay.