Starring: Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Naomie Harris
Director: Barry Jenkins
Running Time: 110 mins
Moonlight is an American film about a young black man living in a rough neighbourhood of Miami who struggles to find his place in the world over the course of his life, all the while wrestling with himself to find out who he truly is.
Offering a story that’s a little different from what you’d expect, Moonlight is a properly engrossing watch. With some beautiful and powerful directing from Barry Jenkins, excellent performances across the board, and a strongly introspective and thoughtful story, there’s a lot about Moonlight that really makes you think, something that’s always a cause for high praise.
One of the most interesting things about Moonlight is the way in which its story is structured. Divided into three parts in which we see the young man, Chiron, as a child, a teenager and an adult, the film manages to show a deep emotional development in the character in such a natural and brilliant way.
Rather than announcing its message at the first second, Moonlight ingeniously leaves its story’s most important elements to be expressed with patience and maturity. The result of that is, rather than feeling like you’re being preached to, you feel the same emotional confusion and turmoil as Chiron, as the full extent of what he’s going through is never all revealed at once, making for a thoroughly fascinating and thought-provoking watch.
What’s more is that this film doesn’t tell the same sort of troubled youths story that we’ve seen so many times. Whilst it takes a lot of inspiration from that genre, and its setting is evocative of the same concepts, the film is far more about one person and his own emotional development through his life. Made harder by some of the people around him, he goes through an incredible struggle, but the story that’s presented here is something that we really don’t see all that often.
Moving on from the story to what I thought was the film’s best quality: Barry Jenkins’ directing. Matching the powerfully introspective nature of the story, Jenkins’ directing is incredibly understated. From the use of some fascinating camerawork to a hauntingly powerful combination of the film’s score and silent images, the film is an exceptionally beautiful and artistically impressive watch from start to finish.
Moonlight is without a doubt a slow film, but that’s by no means an issue thanks to how Jenkins reinforces its contemplative atmosphere through his directing style. What’s more is that the film feels very grounded in reality as a result of this. Never too showy or melodramatic, the strongest way in which Jenkins manages to cement the film’s understated emotional power is by giving it that incredible real-world look throughout.
Finally, the performances here are absolutely fantastic as well. Despite having no single lead actor, as Chiron is played by three different actors at different stages of his life, the performances in Moonlight are hugely memorable an integral to its emotional payoff.
The three actors who play Chiron are all fascinating to watch. Brilliantly portraying an image of sadness at the prospect of not being accepted in his community, not even by his own mother, they all bring you closer to the main character, and make sympathising with his situation all the more easy.
What’s more is that the likes of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are stunning in even smaller roles. Despite only appearing on screen for less than a third of the film each, both Ali and Harris’ performances play a key role in shaping your image of Chiron’s plight.
On the one hand, Ali is a powerfully relatable and likable presence, looking after a young Chiron as if he were his own son, bringing a real heart to the film. Meanwhile, Harris’ often terrifying performance as Chiron’s drug addict mother is absolutely mind-blowing to see, bringing you even closer to Chiron as he suffers the saddest of all rejections, from his own family.
Overall, it’s fair to say that Moonlight is an absolutely fantastic film. Engrossing, artistic and deeply reflective, it’s an engrossing watch from start to finish, and thanks to incredible directing and acting as well, the film is as grounded in reality as can possibly be, which is why I’m giving it a 7.9.