Moonlight was directed by Barry Jenkins from his screenplay based on a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney and stars Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomi Harris and Mahershala Ali.
I’ve been reviewing all of the Oscar contenders that I didn’t get to see when they first came out in the theater and it’s been something compacting all of this in to the last couple of weeks. When you look at the quality of the film making packed into just a few of the hundreds of movies which were released in 2016, it is quite impressive. And I have to say that Moonlight without a doubt was not just one of the best of 2016 but is just plain brilliant writing and film making. I’m going to talk about this and try to break it down for you, but I have to lead with saying that this movie is important in a way few films are, that it has something to say about love, family, friendship, the harsh realities of life and our social order and how fate is really nothing more than the choices we are forced to make but how they can be overcome – and it packs all this into an intensely dramatic and fascinating two hours that will leave you thoughtful, both happy and sad and probably a bit taken aback by how stunningly good it is.
Moonlight defies easy or simple labels. At this point it’s a bit repetitive to say that it “works on so many levels” or is a “multi-layered story” so instead let’s just say that there’s a lot going on here. The story is actually a collaboration between Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins, both of them contributing semi-biographical material into the final screenplay which Barry Jenkins then shot in Liberty City, Florida, where both he and McCraney had actually grown up. And the reality of their existence comes through in every scene and every shot. There are a couple of clever camera setups and moves, like the opening shot’s circular pan and some beautiful long shots, and the use of color is so precise that it makes it almost a pivotal part of the story telling all by itself.
Now in terms of the story, this is a fascinating life journey following a boy named Chiron but who is first known as Little and eventually grows to a hardened drug dealer called Black. But this is not New Jack City. The intensely personal story follows the ins and outs of Chiron’s life, his crack addicted mother, the drug dealer who initially befriends him as a child and eventually becomes the role model Chiron bases his drug dealing personality on and explores Chiron’s repressed homosexuality. This last part in particular is dealt with in a surprisingly realistic and caring way, frankly in a way I’ve never seen before on the big screen. All of these factors have received almost countless numbers of cinematic treatments but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no other movie has broken the mold of every one of these stereotypes like this one does. Even though Chiron is the main character, he doesn’t really say very much until the third act, yet despite this he is a fully realized person who you connect with as a child and stay fully connected with despite the harsh choices he makes.
All the acting is top notch and I’d be hard pressed to pick any favorites. With a film of this quality, it’s not even really about that because it’s more like the work of a master craftsman – every part and every piece is necessary and has a function and if you remove even one of those pieces, the whole doesn’t really work. This film is up for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali as drug dealer Juan, Best Supporting Actress for Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Film Editing, which marks the first time a black woman has been nominated for an Editing Oscar. If Moonlight swept the Oscars this year, not one of these awards would be undeserved.
In terms of rating this, obviously I loved this film and have no hesitation giving it a rating of Sheer Awesomeness. If you have not yet seen Moonlight, believe me when I say that you are really missing out on a very special experience and you should see it as soon as possible.
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