Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris
Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ burst onto the scene this awards season, grabbing everyone’s attention. Debuting in less than five screens, the film still broke the box office, meaning that not only was there mass attention coming out of festivals, but the wider release into 650 screens in the USA and the revenue that generated, means that the film has now reached a good portion of the public eye. The average Metascore stands at a whopping 99 out of 100, and the words “Best Picture” seem to be on people’s minds with regards to this movie. So with this review, I plan to not only say why this movie deserves the recognition in the box office, but why The Oscars need this movie in their thoughts come nomination time.
‘Moonlight’ is one of the more unique stories to come out of Hollywood this year. It centres around the life story of a young black man named Chiron, and the three main stages of his life – from his youth to his teenage years to his mid-20s. Chiron lives in a poor area of Miami, Florida, and the overarching theme surrounding his story is that of who he is versus who he wants to be. If you’ve seen the trailer, then it should be obvious what I’m referring to. If not, then either spoil it for yourself by watching the trailer or go see it blind (I think it’s more fun to see a movie blind).
Here’s why the movie deserves your money and all the profit from the box office. In all aspects of filmmaking, ‘Moonlight’ proves not only capability, but in some instances mastery, of the way films are supposed to move and feel. While watching this, there were scenes that felt real, like, I was standing in the room with the characters real. The atmosphere of the film is enticing, in that you want to learn more about Chiron, about the way he thinks, about his life. And every single performance in the movie helps in creating this vibrant tone. The actors and actresses involved were amazing, especially the child and teenage actors who play Chiron. There is not a single moment where I looked at an actor’s performance and thought it could’ve been better. The writing fleshes out each character so well, even if they only have one or two scenes. Going in, I could only name two actors in the movie. Coming out, I will remember a lot more.
The cinematography and direction in this movie are incredible as well. The movie never feels dull, and even when it slows down, the direction keeps the movement and grace of the film alive. Watching this felt like watching poetry in motion, it seemed like every frame had its purpose, every action had reason, there was nothing left out in the choices made to fully bring this material to life. There’s no grand, scenic shots like ‘The Revenant’ gave us, but the way the camera moves makes the film progress and makes the characters feel more alive. In terms of direction, the film is clearly (and astutely) split into three chapters, giving each a different sense of Chiron’s development. The themes and symbols used in the film make sense, given the story and some of its subjects. I personally enjoyed the middle chapter the most because I think it gave the more interesting moments out of every character; it acted as a tipping point in the film, and I loved the way it resolved.
Overall, ‘Moonlight’ is a must-see, and The Academy needs this film in its ranks. It’s original, unique, and has a range of diverse characters and concepts that have been sorely lacking from previous nomination lists of late. It’s not a film that panders to certain communities and should be an enjoyable experience for every mature film-goer (I emphasise mature, because some people at my screening found emotional moments funny when they are everything but funny). The film as a piece, serves as a great examination into black masculinity and how certain cultures value different things. It also serves as a great reflection on life and how certain experiences from our past shape our future. This was plain to see in the third act, with almost every scene taking place at night (under the moonlight, interestingly).
My only real flaws are the ending, and certain personal preferences. I think it ends too abruptly, but someone else could see it and think otherwise. I also had some grievances with certain character decisions, even though they made complete sense in the context of the story. All in all, it’s not as dynamic and entertaining as some other films out there, but the execution and raw beauty of the story make up for that. It’s not a perfect 10 for me, but it could easily be a 10 for you, and that is another reason why this is a must-see for everyone. I’m tipping (and hoping for) ‘Moonlight’ to be in the running for Best Picture come 2017.