Reviewed: Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)

moonlight-poster-lg.jpg

Director: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Alex R.Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes

Studio: A24

Based on the unpublished play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’, director Barry Jenkins creates a well polished and highly personal character study of a young black child coming to terms with his own identity. Moonlight, through its heavy themes, explores the black community of America, various aspects of youth culture as well as carrying a component of LGBT struggle.

Split into three different chapters, each depicting a key point in the lead character Chiron’s life, Moonlights’ narrative is deliberately disjointed. Through bringing about a perfect rendition of the development of a struggling individual as he meanders through school life, bullies and an emotionally abusive mother, Moonlight develops into one of the most relevant character studies to have ever been released. Various demographics will find truth within the exploits of Chiron, bringing in a level of personal recognition to the developments onscreen. The narrative will obviously become more effective to certain demographics of people, who have struggled with similar elements of identity as the lead character. However, Moonlight attempts and achieves a lot through its premise and through this aspect, is a most watch for everyone.

Where other character studies are heavy handed with their themes, Moonlight instead allows for the screenplay and acting to compliment each other perfectly, creating a subconscious understanding of the wider social messages. Hard hitting and powerful, the characters that surround the films lead are expertly created onscreen, developed within the confines of Chiron’s narrative and as such produces a wider understanding to the plights of his personal development. With each chapter taking a particular stance on the characters, Moonlight manages to create a film that is easily understood and powerfully received. The second section (titled Chiron) is the films’ strongest element, intersecting the two conjoining chapters within one key sequence, while also delivering a heavy hitting standpoint from where the film really delivers a particular tone.

As the production is split into three different chapters, each depicting a different age of the character, the film needed to cast three individuals to fulfil the role of the main character. Through casting the right people within this role, Moonlight manages to bring an individual identity into every performance. This formulates into a fully realised protagonist that feels deep in his exploits and real throughout. Supported by some amazing performances (Marhershala Ali is completed deserved of his Oscar Win), the film is allowed the freedom to express a wider message through the expressive standard of acting that is present within the film. Shot in a manner that allows the camera to serve as an extra character, the audience can become engrossed within the narrative development of the characters.

With a subtle arrangement of music, the feeling of isolation that befalls Chiron is instantly recognisable onscreen. Alongside a careful edit, the music and performance of the three different actors creates an depiction of a character that feels one and the same throughout.

Directed to an expert quality by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is entirely deserved of its critical acclaim. Unafraid to depict the darker aspects of youth culture and minority oppression, the films’ screenplay (also written by Jenkins) is a powerful tool that is used consistently as a means to explore wider messages. Each cinematographic framing is utilised to produce the best effect from the onscreen development.

Moonlight uses light as powerful catalyst in the design of its shots, which adds a further dimension to its production and a creates an illusion of quality within proceedings. Alongside these technical components, Jenkins paces his film brilliantly with the film neither coming across as too fast or too slow. Instead the speed of the films’ narrative allows for audience reception, producing a complimentary style to the films heavy themes. 

Plot – 4

Acting – 5

Direction – 4

Retrospect – 3

Overall – 4

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