Winner - Best Picture
Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali)
Winner - Best Adapted Screenplay
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert
Built from the screenplay In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Barry Jenkins' Moonlight tinkers slightly with the format and presents the story of a young man in three stages of his life and giving us an untamed view into the trials and troubles Chiron faces with himself, family and society. A story of a black man seemingly locked in the closet in the hard world of Liberty City, fatherless and poor – it’s a hard hitting, emotive story through to the end.
Finding three fine actors to portray Chiron is the first key to the movie’s success, whether it’s Little’s near mute performance with his eyes, the introverted teenage Chiron or the uber macho Black, all three provide fine performances.
Nuanced and mature and never failing to be anything but genuine, all three manage to portray so much power just through their eyes, it’s an incredible achievement. Mahershala Ali gives a towering performance as the drug dealer with a conscience, though one who knows just who he is. His restrained performance is powerful enough, but is never more evident than his final scene with young Little. There’s nothing wrong with the performances throughout – though the crack addled ghetto mother veered into stereotype territory, as did the idea that Chiron only felt happy in dance class.
Driven by a bass heavy hip hop soundtrack, the movie never particularly thunders along yet never drags. Each act is given the time it needs to develop yet Jenkins manages to fit in so much during the duration that it feels like nothing is glossed over, a literal walkthrough with Chiron as he progresses through life. The downtrodden housing estates of Miami lend the movie it’s backdrop, and fit nicely with the grimey approach to the protagonists lifestyles. Offset with this are the beautiful moonlit scenes, light bathing our cast in blue on the cool beach of Miami. Not just a nice title, moonlight becomes a metaphor throughout the movie and it’s importance to the story is paramount. Also key to the movie is it’s grounded approach. Nobody is a hero here or claims to be, we have just normal people living imperfect lives and getting by as they need to. Through the imbalance is light however, as Juan’s heartfelt treatment of Little shows, and Teresa also.
The movie’s message is explicit and is delivered by Ali as he says, “at some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you” – it’s a message that reverberates throughout each act – can Little be tough? Can Chiron be gay and accepted? Is Black really the macho man he desperately wants people to believe? Is it ever too late to make the decision? What Jenkins does is successfully explore the ideas and partly gives us the conclusions whilst letting us make our own.
Building to a poignant final act, where the movie almost comes full circle, Jenkins packs an emotional punch in a deeply personal movie. Nothing is really resolved, though nothing needs to be explicitly shown or said, the performances give enough of a story for viewers to take and decide where the characters go. There’s no exploitation or pandering here, Moonlight is a tough movie, but one with a caring heartbeat pulsing the movie along.
Crucial life beats, hard moments and tender payoffs, Moonlight shines bright.
March 12th 2017