Film Review: Moonlight (2016)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2016 (Telluride)
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Written by: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Based on: In Moonlight Black Blues Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

Plan B Entertainment, Pastel Productions, A24, 111 Minutes

Review:

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” – Juan

I didn’t get to see this last year, as it was only in my local theaters for a blink of an eye. Now that it is streaming on Amazon Video, I finally got to see the film that derailed La La Land‘s beeline to Oscar glory. I didn’t really like La La Land, so I was pretty okay with it getting knocked off of its pedestal.

But is Moonlight a better picture? I’d say so.

Strangely, this is the first motion picture to win the Oscar for Best Picture that has an all black cast, as well as being about LGBT issues. It probably won because of industry politics and Hollywood’s need to redeem itself due to pressure from those social justice warriors that have an opinion about everything. Regardless of the politics, this is a fine film. It probably isn’t the best of 2016 but it is certainly in the top ten.

The one thing that stands out the most is the acting. Everyone in this film just existed in it, as real characters. Sure, I know Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe but they really just melted into their roles quite fabulously. Ali was deserving of the Oscar that he won for this and really, I just wish we got more of his character but his fate was important to the overall narrative of this coming of age story, that sees a young boy grow into a man, sort of lost in the world.

While the plot can feel slow moving at times, this is a very human story and driven more by emotion than action. All three actors that played Chiron at different points in his life, were stellar. The last act of the film is a mixture of sadness and hope but it is satisfying and anyone who has lost a friend, only to reconnect in some way, years later, can relate to it.

Other than the acting and the well constructed narrative, the cinematography of this film is spectacular. The lighting is perfect, the shots are pristine and meticulously orchestrated; even if this was a picture that was shot on location in short bursts, it turned out magnificently. I really loved the way the camera moved around characters in several scenes, especially during conversations or conflicts on street settings.

Moonlight is well crafted and its real purpose is to show that finding your own identity isn’t an easy task. Life throws its curveballs and isn’t fair. But whether you’re white, black, gay or straight, I think we can all relate to Chiron’s need to find his right place in the world.

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