Release date: 17th February 2017/Watch the trailer here
Moonlight was inspired by the autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, written by award-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Barry Jenkins, the film chronicles the life of a young black man named Chiron, from childhood to adulthood, as he struggles with bullying, a drug-addicted mother, and his sexuality, all while growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami.
Three actors play Chiron over the three stages of his life that the film explores, separated by title cards: i. Little, ii. Chiron, and iii. Black. We first see him as a nine-year-old boy (Alex Hibbert), nicknamed ‘Little’ for his small stature and meek personality; then as a teenager (Ashton Sanders), further tormented by bullies and the emotional abuse of his mother (Naomie Harris); and finally as a hardened adult (Trevante Rhodes), a drug dealer living in Atlanta and going by the name ‘Black’. Chiron is a man of very few words, and yet each actor succeeds in being incredibly emotive in their performances. Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes are unfortunately being overlooked this awards season, but Moonlight is a film that’s overflowing with extraordinary acting, from Harris’ turn as Chiron’s addict mother to Mahershala Ali as Juan, a drug dealer who becomes something of a father figure for Chiron. Although Ali’s role in Moonlight is fleeting, he plays it with subtle nuance, avoiding the more melodramatic route which would have been all too easy to have taken. A scene in which Juan guiltily admits to Chiron that he sells drugs to his mother is one of the best and the most devastating of the entire film.
The powerful acting is just one layer of many that make Moonlight such an achingly beautiful and emotionally overwhelming film. It is undeniably stunning to look at, with cinematographer James Laxton making remarkable use of colour, most notably – and fittingly, given the title of the play upon which Moonlight is based – the colour blue. The score too, by composer Nicholas Britell, is commanding at just the right times, knowing when to pack an emotional punch or when a moment requires more understated musical enhancement.
If there is any criticism to be found in Moonlight, it’s that the final chapter doesn’t manage to be quite as compelling as the first two, but it’s a weak argument. After all, this is a film about people and about their lives, and more often than not, life is a quiet thing. Still, Jenkins takes these subtle moments and transforms them into something mesmerising. Moonlight never loses its focus on Chiron and the people around him as it explores its themes: identity, family, and – most crucially – the fear and loneliness of being gay while surrounded by a culture that views homosexuality as a weakness. As Chiron matures, he attempts to become the pinnacle of masculinity, but it’s captivating to watch as his tough facade crumbles when he is faced with Kevin (André Holland), the man with whom he shared his first sexual encounter as a teenager, and he finally allows himself to be vulnerable again.
As with each glance shared between Chiron and Kevin, Moonlight aches with intimacy and longing; a poignant piece of art whose beauty, sadness and hope will refuse to leave you.