Film Review: ‘Moonlight’ (2017)

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A tale told in three chapters following Chiron, a young African American man growing up in Miami. It is written and directed by Barry Jenkins, whose first film ‘Medicine for Melancholy‘ looked at gentrification in San Francisco. After a number of shorts and television work, ‘Moonlight‘ is his second feature.

What follows is a film not just about adolescence, but about queerness, about family relationships, motherhood, and status. The film begins by showing us a nine year old Chiron who looks to Juan (Mahershala Ali) a Miami drug dealer, as a replacement parent figure. Juan and girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) seem more collected and liberal compared to actual mother, Paula (Naomie Harris).

In the second strand, we see Chiron as a teenager. His school experience still rife with bullying. His masculinity is bought into question, and his idea of home is somewhat confused. The rest of the film, and the final strand dwell on these themes. It is difficult to say anything about the conclusion in the form of review.

Moonlight‘ is visually breathtaking. The light shades of blue hue surround the film. They encapsulate the undefined masculinity portrayed in Chiron, contrasted and complimented with the other characters. There is a scene early on the film in which Chiron is on the beach and looks out to the ocean. It is as is if he is staring out into a vast moving and swelling mass of water, and that this scene is the abstract for the whole narrative, underpinning the fluidity of his identity.

The cinematography is outstanding. It is precise in it’s control of each scene. The first tracking shot circles the characters showing the dependency between their relationships, the tension, and the struggle for power over the situation. The camera then remains erratic via tilted angle and unevenly framed close up, again reflecting the unease of the situations. A static midshot of Paula screaming into the lens is one that looms over the film.

The identities assigned to Chiron are highlighted once more in the naming of the three chapters or sections of the film. Each is a different nickname he has been given. As we are told the narrative through the eyes of Chiron, we get a clear sense of his personality as a constant through all three performances. The actors (Alex R Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) as the lead at different ages, all contribute toward a protagonist who isn’t sure of himself. The character is resistant to expression, yet also silenced, and bullied. When his sense of self does shine through, it has a poignant affect.
The performances are all very strong indeed. The narrative structure is seamless in approach, yet we are carried through the three different times in one persons life.

[rating=5] | Zach Roddis

Drama | USA, 2016 | 15 | 17th February 2017 (UK) | Altitude Film | Dir.Barry Jenkins | Mahershala Ali,Naomie Harris,André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Alex Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes