We all have our place in the world, it can just take a little longer for certain people to decide on both who and what they want to be. Our formative years play a big part in the life we choose, as do the people and environments that surround us. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is a quite exceptional piece of cinema that explores these ideas in such a wonderful and intimate manner.
Told through three important stages of Chiron’s life; the first being as a young boy nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert), the second in his teenage years where he is actually referred to as Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and the third being in his adult years where he goes by the nickname Black (Trevante Rhodes), Moonlight depicts his journey of self-discovery and sexuality while growing up in a rough Miami neighbourhood.
Moonlight is a bold coming-of-age drama from Barry Jenkins that has an important place in today’s cinema, becoming a raw and powerful film that speaks volumes in today’s climate through evocative performances and a strong narrative that might seem simple upon first viewing but certainly becomes more layered when you look back on it.
The idea to split Chiron’s story into three important stages of his formative years is a stroke of genius from Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose work as a playwright comes into play with the structure and feel of Moonlight. Watching Chiron’s life take shape through certain events in his younger years combined with Barry Jenkins’ screenplay, capturing a sense of realism, ensures Moonlight as a film that will stay with me for a while.
I mentioned the intimate manner in which Moonlight handles its subject matter and it really is one of the film’s stand-out features, the close relationships that Chiron sparingly experiences and James Laxton’s cinematography really honing in on this.
Coming to the performances, Moonlight is a special film with a cast who each don’t get too much time to impress but they sure as hell make the most of their individual opportunities. The narrative dictates that three different actors of different ages were needed to make Moonlight work as a film, leading to Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes giving three impressive and similar performances in the lead role. Chiron is a character of very few words and they all do a lot of their talking with the looks they give to others and their facial expressions.
The supporting performances in Moonlight are the ones that are getting all the limelight however. Mahershala Ali is the favourite to walk away with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Juan, a drug dealer who has a major impact on Chiron in his younger years. Ali is not in the film an awful lot but he left me wanting to see more of his character, which is the sign of a great performance. I loved the performance given by Naomie Harris more, who stars as Chiron’s abusive mother, Paula. Harris, who is up for Best Supporting Actress, gives arguably the best performance of the film, where the drug addiction leads to her character having almost two personalities, one abusive the other nurturing, if only seen briefly.
To many Moonlight is the biggest threat to La La Land for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, easy to see why with how great a film it is. Moonlight is more than just competition for an award though, it’s a lesson in acceptance and how our behaviour towards one another can be more damaging than rewarding.