Moonlight, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is raw, real and human. I was instantly pulled into this film; the characters and their stories was something that I just wanted to watch, and become a part of their journey. Jenkins achieves a lot in this film – it’s actually kind of unbelievable the feelings this film elicits. I was stunned by the characters and the performances behind them, and I was in awe of just how upfront and honest the film was in its filming and overall approach to its subject. I’m looking forward to writing this review, as there is much to say, so let’s get to it.
The film follows, Chiron (who also goes by the names, ‘Little’ and ‘Black’). We see him at three different points in his life and he is played by, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes. Each time we are with him, we see the struggles that he faces; not only at home, but at school and within himself. Chiron struggles with who he is, and it is through the people around him and the experiences that he goes through, that we see how those people influence his path and how those experiences help him grow and change over time. It is a human story, it is a real story and it is a raw story.
It is in this films main character and how he is presented, that it truly shines. We are taken on a journey with, Chiron, we see him at three different points in his life, and each of them is just as difficult as the last. Now this could have not worked. Having three actors play the same character, could have been jarring and messy. But in Moonlight that simply isn’t the case. Director Barry Jenkins in very deliberate in the time we spend with Chiron and he is then also very clear in when it is time to move on and focus on the next part of his life. Perhaps if you didn’t know that the film was going to do it, you might struggle with the film at first, but that was not an issue for me.
Why do I think it worked so well? Well al lot of it is down to the absolutely perfect casting. All three actors are perfect in their taking over of the role. Each takes on what the others have done, and they also build upon it. It was actually surprising to me just how easily I adapted to the different set of circumstances. Despite there being large jumps in time and a clearly different actor now helming the film, I think it was because of how strongly the character had been built up – via the script, the first actor who plays him (Alex R. Hibbert) and the supporting cast of characters around him that it works so well/easily
The time we spend with Chiron (through the years); the struggles we see him deal with, the developments he makes as a person – we really do become a part of his story. By the end of this film, I felt I knew the character of, Chiron so well. There are films with longer running times and a more conventional structure that have failed to develop and explore a character, as well as Moonlight does. I was a part of his life for 3 separate points in time, and each time I grew closer to his story, and I became ever more invested.
It is also in the stellar supporting cast that the film is able to build further upon what it has already been laying out. Actors like, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and André Holland bring so much to a film that is already dealing with a full plate of struggle and heartache. Moonlight continually delivers on its characters and the actors playing them never miss a beat. Watching any and all of them play off of one another in scenes that are laden with so much depth and anguish, makes for an unforgettable film going experience – there is much that is powerful in this film, and it is all so exceedingly watchable.
I found myself becoming completely controlled by this film, never wanting to turn away or have my mind drift off onto other things. What you have is a very simple story, with an extremely complicated character at the centre of it, and it made for something that was easy to invest in. Over time it became something that you almost weren’t prepared for; the depths this film goes too, the heartache and the strife that the characters deal with, you almost feel like you become a participant yourself. You are there to see the cruel realities of, Chiron’s world, and in a weird sort of way, you just can’t help but keep watching.
I became so invested in Chiron. I so badly wanted him to escape the things that tore at him that my connection to the film only deepened. I think what made it most difficult, was seeing how, Chiron would continually struggle with who he is – never being able to just say how he really felt. This is why, Moonlight is attracting the sort of praise it is getting (it least it’s why I think it is). How brilliantly this film pulls you in and so easily latches you onto, Chiron and his story… it’s almost like a magic trick where you didn’t even notice what was happening, and then all of a sudden you’re sitting there watching this person’s life unfold; you weren’t ready for the kind of investment that you’ve been thrust into, but you also don’t want to walk away.
But it’s not only in his storytelling that director, Barry Jenkins makes you a part of the film, it is in his camera work as well. It at times felt spontaneous; as if they were experimenting with different ways to implement the camera into the heart of the scene. It wasn’t anything ground-breaking or new, but it was different. Sometimes the camera would float in between the characters, making it feel like we were an ethereal presence, watching over, which made it all the more uncomfortable, yet strangely engaging when it was a moment that was not the easiest to watch. It made for something that on a base level was just interesting to look at. Having the camera feel like something more than just a static window into, Chiron’s life, really did add something to the watching experience – it made it feel more real.
What were almost like 3 short stories in the life of, Chiron were powerful and honest moments that all weaved them self into something bigger. This is Barry Jenkins first feature-length film, but you wouldn’t guess it from watching it. He takes an idea that isn’t necessarily the most ambitious, but is still challenging to get right, and he makes it look so effortless. He is somehow able to build out a character and then make him feel completely real, with only small glimpses into his life. He is able to make a story, out of an incomplete bridge in the narrative and yet you never feel lost or confused. He just delivers something that is instantly memorable, and completely inspiring.
In the end I was blown away by what this film achieved and what writer, director Barry Jenkins achieved. A film that in a way unique, but at the same time familiar; a main character who deserves your every ounce of attention, and a story that anyone can connect to. This is certainly an outstanding film; one that never falters.
And so with everything I’ve said, I’m absolutely recommending, Moonlight. A special film; one that is deserving of the attention it is getting, and one you should certainly make the effort to see.
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