STARRING: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe and Patrick Decile
A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami.
Moonlight chronicles the life of Chiron through three different periods of his life; as a young boy, as a teenager and as a young man. We follow Chiron through his upbringing, questioning his sexuality and later creating this masculine exterior.
It’s been a while waiting for Moonlight to be released officially this week after just missing out on its screening at the Foyle Film Festival back in November last year. Moonlight tells the story of Chiron through three different stages of his life, defined separately by the different nicknames and identities he is given or creates himself – Little, Chiron and Black.
Barry Jenkins has made a truly great film to watch following a boys life unfolding before us as he grows up feeling alienated by his sexuality, which has put him through harsh playground bullying and psychological abuse from his crackhead mother Paula. Little is given a bit of advice from a drug dealer named Juan however that lingers over the characters life, which is, “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” The collaboration between Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton is the key strength of the film, capturing the Miami neighbourhood with rich, saturated colours that are times the film appears almost dream like. Water also plays an importance throughout the film, from Juan teaching Little to swim, to Chiron experiencing an intimate moment with friend Kevin to the bowl of ice water signalling transformation. Every frame and every sound of the ocean is placed with purpose and the score from Nicholas Britell I thought was beautiful. The performances from the actors playing Chiron – Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert – I thought were great and they depict Chiron’s life convincingly in their own ways whilst maintaining the characters mannerisms, with Hibbert being the withdrawn child that is fending for himself, Sanders being the awkward, bullied teen that comes to an empowering crossroads and Rhodes as the muscular ‘hard’ Black that mirrors that of his original mentor Juan. The supporting cast is solid, with Mahershala Ali gaining the accolades for his performance as drug dealer Juan who develops an attachment to Chiron and decides to fill in the void of ‘father figure’ in the boys life and giving him tips on life along the way. While Ali has been getting the accolades on supporting male performer, I thought André Holland was just as impressive as the older Kevin, shining on screen with his charisma in the films final act. Naomie Harris is also terrific as Chiron’s abusive mother who you are meant to hate and yet when she shows vulnerability when having a heart to heart with her son I actually felt sympathy for her. Janelle Monáe is also really good here as Juan’s partner, Teresa, who looks out for Chiron whenever he needs her.
As well directed and well acted this film is, I’ll admit that the film took me a while to get connected with the material. Primarily this will come down to whether or not the viewer can get invested or have any sort of attachment to Chiron, who is very much reserved and reticent to the point that he is a human shell that wanders from location to location but yet that’s an important reason for him being that restrained. With the film being played by three different actors of the same character, I’ll admit that while I thought Rhodes played the best version of Chiron, performance wise, the final act just didn’t feel as strong as the first two with Hibbert and Sanders.
Barry Jenkins does a magnificent job bringing forth a film that showcases the tale of a boy to manhood that has to come to terms with handling his own identity and sexuality in a harsh environment, with solid performances across the board from its cast, especially Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert all playing Chiron. Laxton’s cinematography is gorgeous and Britell’s score is beautiful. 8/10