Who would have thought a coming-of-age story could be so original?
“Moonlight” follows Chiron, a gay African American in Miami, through three stages of his life (youth, teen and adult) and the struggles he faces to figure out who he truly is. Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert star as the three incarnations of Chiron as Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali also star and Barry Jenkins writes and directs.
I didn’t know much about this film going in; I saw the trailer one time (before the immensely underrated “Southside with You”) and heard spent the last two months having every critic who saw it at every festival praise it. Upon seeing it for myself I can say that while I was never blown away or truly moved, this is a beautifully shot and acted film that I’m sure will do well for itself come awards season.
This film focuses on Chiron, who we meet as a bullied youth. Alex Hibbert portrays him at this stage and while he doesn’t say much, he is commendable for his chemistry with Mahershala Ali, a man who becomes his father figure. Ali isn’t in the film too much, but makes the most of the scenes he does share with Hibbert. Both Rhodes and Sanders do a good job portraying an older Chiron who is quiet in nature and struggling to accept himself for who he is and where he belongs.
Naomie Harris, who shot her scenes over just four days while promoting “Spectre,” will likely land herself an Oscar nod for her role as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother. She isn’t quite heart breaking, but you can sense the love she has for her child despite yelling at him and demanding money from him; to me it was the film’s most layered character.
The film looks simply gorgeous, whether it’s the color palette or the different type of film used to shoot with. Skin textures and building lighting of the three acts, ranging from sun-lit to fluorescent to neon-soaked, each have their own distinct look and feel, and here’s hoping cinematographer James Laxton gets the praise he deserves. The score by Nicholas Britell is subtle but almost hypnotic, like a lesser version of “Taxi Driver.”
Now the biggest problem is the story itself, with some of the seemingly most important plot points happening off-screen and are only made known in brief passing comments. There is also a decent jump in time between teen Chiron and adult Chiron so we are left to fill in the gaps about how our central character has further evolved and what he has been up to.
“Moonlight” excels on its performances and technical masters, and while it may not be a masterpiece it is certainly a rare piece of cinema about a type of character we don’t see too often. In a fall that has had letdowns like “Billy Lynn” and overly self-serious films like “Arrival,” it is nice to see a film go back to the basics of cinema and rely on good old fashion acting to succeed.
Critics Rating: 7/10