“Moonlight”: A Stunning Tour de Force

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“Moonlight” is written and directed by Barry Jenkins and stars Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes.  The film is about the life of Chiron, a boy without a father and with a drug-addicted mother,  and it is told in three different chapters that focus on three pivotal moments in his life.

This is, without a doubt, the most excited I have been to see a movie all year.  To say that the critics were buzzing about this film would be a massive understatement.  Critics were drooling over this movie, and the trailer for this film is gorgeous, and I probably watched that about 100 times, so yes, I was so excited to see this film.  I actually saw this film twice before reviewing it, but I will explain that later on.

The Good

Let’s start with the acting, as it’s fantastic all over the board.  All three actors who portray the lead character of Chiron, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, do beautiful work in this movie, as each of them certainly feel as if they are all one person.  Each of the three do a great job with acting using facial expressions over words, as the lead character is not a big talker.  Even without words, the emotions are there, and that’s all due to the subtleties in the performances of the leads.

Naomie Harris is absolutely superb in this film as Shairon’s mother, Paula.  Harris goes through a massive transformation from start to finish, and she plays the role excellently.  Sometimes she brings the fear, sometimes she brings the anger, and sometimes she brings the emotion, but whatever it is, Harris knocks it out of the park, and has many of the standout scenes because of it.  Even more impressive, Harris shot all of her scenes for this film within three days, and seeing how much change her character goes through in both emotions and appearance, that is an astonishing feat to say the least.

Mahershala Ali also shines in his supporting role, even though he is only in the film for a short while.  Regardless of screen time, Ali is so crucial to the movie as a whole, and while that may be just from how the character is written, Ali brings a phenomenal performance with it.  The dynamic that his character and Shairon have in the movie is beautiful to watch, and Ali does great work at making each one of his scenes as amazing to watch as the next.

Stepping away from the performances, because each and every one of them is great in this film and I can’t mention them all, on a visual and sound standpoint, this movie is pure art.  The cinematography by James Laxton is gorgeous, as the way it flows with the characters movement or keys in on the eyes of characters is jaw-dropping to watch, and adds to the power of every scene.  There are moments where the lighting sets a mood or the angle of the camera adds a beautiful, unique touch to a usually simple shot that just floored me, and Laxton, as well as Barry Jenkins, did a truly incredible job with the camerawork here.  Moving to the score, done brilliantly by Nicholas Britell, the music choices, as well as the background sounds, all just add so much raw power to already incredibly emotional scenes, and there were moments where the score itself gave me chills to hear.

I feel like the best way I can compliment Barry Jenkins’ direction and the screenplay is to simply applaud, as this is a masterfully written, masterfully directed movie.  The subtleties that Jenkins balances, as well as how he makes each and every character grounded and well developed around the lead of Shairon are simply breathtaking.  The way Jenkins avoids being too explosive and instead lets emotions be shown in small bits and pieces instead of all in one moment is a stroke of genius.  The dialogue, in which Jenkins unbelievably makes each word coming out of someone’s mouth as important as the next, the way everything anybody ever says fits together into this beautiful puzzle that is a human being, is pure cinematic magic to say the least, and I can not say enough about how blown away I was by the work that Jenkins put into this film, and how much that it paid off.

I love the unique way in which the story of Shairon is told, as it adds a lot to the way this movie works.  By telling the plot in three parts based around three major moments, it gives us enough insight into this person, as well as showing the development of him as a person both on the inside and out, but in a unique way.  The storyline shares so many important themes of things like sexuality, race, class, drugs, and becoming your own person, that I still find myself learning different lessons every time I start thinking about this movie again.

What makes “Moonlight” stand out is the risks it is willing to take in telling a story that feels so poignant.  Many of the characters in this film are ones that are never really depicted in movies, but that doesn’t mean they do not exist.  This shows the positives in those who are often looked down on, and also the struggle it takes to come into your own, while also showing the beauty of the little things, and all of this happens because Jenkins never plays it safe.  This is a risky film that works in each and every way, and allows for a film experience like I’ve truly never had.

The Bad (sort of)

The reason I saw this movie twice was because I was coming off of the movie, “Arrival”, a film that I clearly fell in love with, and less than 12 hours later I was in a theater for this movie excited as hell, and I found myself put off a bit by the slow pace.  This movie does not rush things in the slightest, it allows ideas to boil, and it doesn’t throw flashy scenes in at every moment, and after watching the film twice, I think this is brilliant.  Instead of making that one scene where all the emotions are spilled  and we have a massive conflict, the conflicts and resolutions never stop, just like in real life.  Jenkins crafted a film that feels more real than nearly any movie I’ve ever seen, and it does so by making every scene important and by making all the little details massive, and even if that leads to the film having a slower pace, it is absolutely worth it.

Conclusion

“Moonlight” is the type of film that needed to exist.  Brilliant performances from the cast, a touching score, and excellent camerawork along with some of the best direction and writing I have seen so far this year, this is a film that will stand the test of time.  There are themes here that are important in today’s day in age, as well as themes that will always be important.  This movie may not be for everyone, and the slow build may take some getting used to, but once you let yourself become engrossed in this story of a poor black kid from Miami, you will not regret it.  “Moonlight”, by all definitions of the word, is a masterpiece in filmmaking.

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Get tickets and showtimes for “Moonlight” here

What did you think of “Moonlight”?  Are you excited about it?  Comment below with what you think.


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