Friday, December 2, 2016

Movie Review: "Moonlight" (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
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The story of Chiron told at three different points of his life as he grows up in the slums of Miami.

"Moonlight" is directed by Barry Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The film chronicles the story of an individual named Chiron through three stages of his life. The first stage features Chiron as a young boy, referred to as Little, played by Alex Hibbert. The next portion covers his life as a teenager, who simply goes by the name Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders, and finally, we see a glimpse into the life of Chiron as an adult, who now goes by the nickname Black, played by Trevante Rhodes.

Chiron lives in a rough neighborhood in Miami where drugs and violence are the norm. His mother Paula, played by Naomie Harris, appears to be a normal, caring mother, but rapidly descends into a full-blown drug addict. The only father figure in Chiron's life is a local drug dealer named Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who seemingly takes him under his wing and gives him food, a place to stay on occasion, and advice as he navigates a rough childhood where he is constantly bullied. On top of all of this, Chiron is gay. He's not fully aware of it himself for much of his life, even though everyone else seems to know the truth. As a teenager, Chiron is still bullied by the same kids out in the open. He doesn't really fit in anywhere. He still has one childhood friend named Kevin, played at this stage by Jharrel Jerome, though Kevin has a penchant for openly discussing the girls he has sex with at their school. Kevin and Chiron seem to have a mutual understanding with one another, and their relationship is much deeper than it appears on the surface. Events occur which break them apart, and after a decade, Chiron, now an adult and played by Rhodes, has followed in the footsteps of the only man he's ever really known, masking himself with jewels, weights, dollars, and fronts. After receiving a phone call from Kevin, now played by AndrĂ© Holland, all of the feelings he once had, the ones he has tried so desperately to suppress, come flooding back to him.

The topic seen in "Moonlight" is not one frequently covered in cinema. We have seen many 'life in the hood' types of movies, as well as many others chronicling the gay experience, but this is the first time we've seen the two combined in such a flawless, subtle way featuring an entirely black cast. Barry Jenkins does a master job delivering a beautifully understated film that tries extremely hard to give an honest look at this subject. More than anything, what truly stands out is the acting. The three actors who portray Chiron, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, do a fantastic job selling his shy insecurity as he journeys from an introverted kid, to a bullied teen who is struggling with his identity and his place in the world, to the yolked-out adult who puts on a hard front, but deep down, falls back to a shy introversion when uncertainty arises. Mahershala Ali is brilliant as Juan, who despite being a drug dealer, winds up being one of the few positive influences in Chiron's life. Though his role is short and sweet, his on-screen performance is powerful and meaningful enough that his impact is felt throughout the film. We cannot wait to see more good things from Ali as he continues to impress us with his acting abilities. Then, of course, there is Naomie Harris, another actress who has really made a name for herself in the last decade and a person we continually look forward to seeing on screen. Harris is wonderful as Chiron's crack-addict mother. We watch her spiral down deeper and deeper as the movie progresses, creating quite a strained relationship with her son. Finally, André Holland as the adult Kevin is also excellent in yet another subtly powerful performance.

"Moonlight" is an extremely well put together piece of cinema that is very interesting and compelling. BigJ did not enjoy some of the camerawork and editing, though I never had a problem with these aspects and thought they served to aid in Jenkins' seductive, flowing, lush storytelling. If you let it, this film will keep you engaged and on the verge of tears. Though BigJ was less emotionally moved than I was, we both agree this film deserves all of the accolades it has been receiving, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for the cast and crew of this delicate, aching piece of cinema.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 8.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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