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Moonlight - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on November 4, 2016 at 2:00 AM

“Moonlight” is a stunning cinematic achievement that has a fair deal in common with Richard Linklater's “Boyhood.” Both films are extraordinary coming-of-age stories. “Boyhood” was primarily about capturing the experience of growing up, however, painting a picture that could speak to anybody. “Moonlight,” meanwhile, is arguably a more personal outing, depicting a young man’s search for an identity in a ruthless environment. Barry Jenkins’ film is tragic, gritty, and occasionally flat-out brutal. At the same time, though, it catches you off guard with its moments of sheer hope.

 

The movie is broken into three acts, following an African American named Chiron throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Newcomer Alex R. Hibbert plays Chiron as a young boy. Bullied by the other kids his age, Chiron is branded with the nickname “Little.” Chiron’s home life isn’t much better, as his dad is absent and his mom is an abusive drug addict. In a Best Supporting Actress caliber performance, Naomie Harris dominates the screen as Chiron’s mother. Creating a cruel and unpredictable character, her portrayal is right up there with Mo'Nique’s Oscar-winning work in “Precious,” although Harris’ character arguably has more humanity.

 

Chiron finds two parental figures in a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe). While Juan seems like a threatening individual at first, he becomes the first person to show Chiron love and support. It quickly becomes clear that Juan puts up a tough front, having a heart of gold underneath. With that said, Juan is still forced to do things he’s not proud of in order to survive. Guess who sold those drugs to Chiron’s mother in the first place?

 

Ashton Sanders plays Chiron as a teenager, leading to the darkest act in “Moonlight.” Chiron is tormented at school, as thugs beat him relentlessly while shouting homophobic slurs. The closest thing Chiron has to a friend is Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The closer they get, Chiron and Kevin find that their feelings for each other might run deeper than friendship. Like Juan, though, Kevin also needs to preserve his image to get by. This ultimately influences Chiron to make a decision that will forever change the course of his life.

 

Two-thirds into “Moonlight,” some audience members might wonder why they’re watching such a bleak, difficult film. However, they’ll begin to understand why in the third act where Trevante Rhodes plays an adult Chiron. Without giving too much away, the film’s final destination is a lot different than what audiences will likely expect. Let’s just saw that it brings Chiron’s life full circle in a smart, poignant, and beautiful manner.

 

Barry Jenkins has delivered a truly profound film about labels, society, and the masks we wear. “Moonlight” also provides an insightful looks at the phenomenon of nature vs. nurture, demonstrating what it means to product of your environment. It accomplishes this with superb acting, a gripping score, and subtle direction. Most importantly, it encourages us to see other people in multiple lights, as the world isn’t always black and white.

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

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