Moonlight: Film Review
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Alex R Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes
Director: Barry Jenkins
More is unsaid in Moonlight's triptych than is actually revealed and in parts, it's as intoxicating as it is tantalising.
Drawn unequivocally from its roots as a play and transposed on screen as such under a three act structure, Jenkins' film of the coming of age story of a black man growing up in Miami delivers subtly and with swathes of nuance as it plays out, relying heavily on the viewer to listen for minor details and to bring the tapestry threads together.
But not once does Moonlight ever shift the intimate scale or focus from its leads as we take in three stages of Chiron's life.
From badgered kid to bullied teen to ultimate manhood, Chiron's tale is finely balanced and precariously executed as the world swirls around.
A minimalist score and pared back soundtrack give Moonlight a resonance and a power that compel, but it's the personal moments which leap head and shoulders above anything else here.
This is never anything more than Chiron's journey pilgrimage through life from start to finish, and if that sounds like a trite dismissal of the film and its protagonist, it's not. Over 3 phases of Chiron's life, the struggle for his identity and his place in the world is carefully, quietly and powerfully positioned.
Whether it's bathed in the titular moonlight at the edge of the sea at the beach or swathed in the red glow of the room of his combusting addicted mother (Naomie Harris) as she rails against him, Jenkins' eye for visual detail predicates the story's journey.
But it's the raw and humane delivery of the story by the different age leads that build a dramatic powder-keg of a personal portrait in a (less successful and more obvious) wider tableaux of social commentary that's dripping with sub-text.
And while there's an argument that Jenkins' script shines a light on the continuing problems faced by black Americans, the truths espoused within are universal and yet intimately dispatched.
It's hard to resist Chiron's story or not empathise with his heartbreaking situations - from bullying at school, to violence from a mother, to seeking acceptance from and continually being rejected by his peers. There are universal truths within Moonlight that work as powerfully as they can because of the simplicity of the story's execution and the pared-back nature of the film's execution.
Ultimately, it's the stripped back almost play-like feel of Moonlight that helps it shine - even though there are abrupt cuts at times that are symptomatic of a dramatic curtain call, the emotion is never lost as the story unfurls. With a sparse OST and large periods of silence, Jenkins' builds a veritable atmosphere that ironically, helps it to speak volumes.
From Mahershala Ali's dealer surrogate father figure to the three iterations of Chiron, the vulnerable veracity and tale of acceptance seep through, be it in the dialogue or within the relatability of the story.
As a contemporary portrait of African-Americans, it's vital; and it's also easy to see why awards are being showered on this occasionally Oscar-bait piece; but as a piece of film alone, it's a strong cinematic experience that never once loses its focus and nuances to help it connect to global audiences.
MOONLIGHT is releasing January 19, exclusively at Rialto Cinema Newmarket and Lighthouse Cuba Street