FILM REVIEW: Moonlight
Moonlight is an important film. It's important because of the way it portrays queer people amongst the black community, and the struggle of its central character while reconciling his ideas of what he should be and what he wants - or needs - to be. And it's important because it presents this discourse in the package of an incredibly well-directed and written picture.
Barry Jenkins' film takes us through the evolution of Chiron, who is black and queer, an unheard-of combination in mainstream cinema. Jenkins splits the film into three interconnecting acts based on the age of Chiron, showing him as a young boy (Alex R. Hibbert), a teenager (Ashton Sanders), and finally an adult (Trevante Rhodes). Each act is named after Chiron's name at the time (Little/Chiron/Black). As we meet him as a youngster, his life is already in chaos, not only contending with bullies, but also Paula (Naomie Harris), his crack-addicted mom. The person he ends up bonding with is Juan (Mahershala Ali), a neighbourhood drug dealer who seemingly has an unconscious need for some kind of redemption.
What's beautiful about Moonlight is that it doesn't grandstand. There are critical moments in the film that pinpoint where Chiron's life hinges on certain decisions, but these aren't presented as set-pieces, more as just events going by. It feels passive at times, but not in a negative way, like it would be intruding to be involved further. In other parts, you're wrapped up inside, like when Juan teaches Chiron to swim against Nicholas Britell's neo-classical score, a magic scene that unsurprisingly has been put out as part of the marketing materials. And the heartbreaking moment when the school bully engineers a ploy to have teenage Chiron beaten to a pulp, and further more when Chiron decides to fight back.
There's an intimacy present that is incredibly important, and so necessary for a film like this. Not just for scenes of a sexual nature, although that is so important, but pivotal flashes, one in particular that utilises complete silence to mask a character's words, because what is being said is too much for us to hear, at least at that point. Yes, there is a sex scene, a beautifully realised and natural one, that is so refreshing. Then there's a sequence where a character walks into a diner that is such a brilliant subversion of your standard heterosexual Hollywood romance. It's just wonderful.
Wonderful is a perfect description for the film. Jenkins' direction is impeccable, and his actors are astonishing, not least the three that play Chiron, Hibbert, Sanders, and Rhodes. Ali and Harris have understandably gained many plaudits for their roles as Juan and Paula respectively, but equally brilliant is Janelle Monáe's Teresa. Britell's music is an integral part, a central theme undergoing a subtle metamorphosis across the ages while Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon's editing is crucially seamless, and James Laxton's photography is beautiful.
As I said, Moonlight is important. This cannot be understated, especially as we wage war across the world with words against those who would take away the rights of both people of colour and those who have different sexual orientations. Last year's "Oscars so white" buzz spurred a lot of people into action, and the best thing the Academy could do is to give Moonlight a lot of love because of its importance, its relevance, and because it's a fantastically well-made film. We need to embrace those different from us and hold them as tight as possible, and one of the ways to do that is through the cinema.
Moonlight is released in selected cinemas on February 17th and will go wide on February 24th.