phone mail2 facebook twitter play
FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

FILM REVIEW: Moonlight

12 February 2017 Edd Elliott

The Oscars are just around the corner and the film world has been cleaved in two between awards hopefuls and everything else. Spare a thought for The Founder and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, soon to be taking the unending stroll into ignominy, purely for being overlooked by the Academy Awards’ voters. There is still one major nominee – Moonlight – yet to hit UK cinemas, and from the critical buzz, it may be the best of the lot.

Barry Jenkins’ new film tells the story of Chiron, a young black kid living in a tough suburb of Miami. We meet Chiron, nicknamed Little, being chased by the other boys of the block into an abandoned flat. Here he meets local drug dealer Juan, and the two strike up a father-son bond. Back at home, however, problems are afoot as Chiron’s mother Paula (monstrously played by Naomie Harris) is frantically descending into heroin addiction, supplied by the runners Juan supports.
 
We next find Chiron in his teens. The young man is bullied at school and faces abuse at home. Life is bleak apart from his continued friendship with Terrell, an old companion from childhood. On a deserted Miami beach one night, the two begin a romantic relationship. The affair is short-lived, however, as events at school force the pair into conflict. The film’s third and final act moves on nearly a decade again and supplies another twists. Chiron is now a drug dealer named “Black”, operating the streets of Atlanta. He returns to Miami to see his mother and has a brief encounter with his former lover.
 
The story of a young, black, working-class kid growing up outside the New York-LA American axis, Moonlight is obviously a largely unique film – especially for mainstream Hollywood distribution. We so rarely get the chance to see projects like this, let alone in a local Vue or Cineworld. That Barry Jenkins’ picture handles its subject matter with poetry, subtlety and genuine drama is even more remarkable. Let’s just say it – this is the best film of this Oscar year.


 
The film hangs together on a series of sublime performances from Moonlight’s trio of central actors. Despite being split across three different time periods and three different shoots, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes manage to create a single character out of Chiron, arguably more believable and consistent than Ellar Coltrane’s twelve year portrayal of Mason in Boyhood. Little mannerisms—side-ways glances, long stares, half-smiles—permeate across the three time periods, constantly hinting at the legacy of Chiron’s past and it’s continued affect on the present. Rhodes delivers a particularly astounding display, seamlessly moving between the tough, charismatic Black in Atlanta, to the uncertain Chiron returning to his hometown – it’s arguably the best performance of the year, despite being only half an hour long.
 
The creation of Chiron clearly owes a large debt to the guidance of Jenkins, and the director manages to extract similarly immense performances from Mahersala Ali, Naomie Harris and the lesser-known Andre Holland. The poise and nuance of the Miami-born film-makers’ camera work – aided by cinematographer James Laxton, formerly of Tusk and Camp X-Ray – is astounding for a second feature, and transforms Moonlight from an interesting social introspection into a stunning piece of poetic cinema. The film’s opening shot lasts close to 5 minutes and swirls around Juan, its subject, like a tornado, disorientating the audience with the madness of its movement. It sets up the proceeding two hours of unique camera angles and shot-constructions that transform the dull-brown American hum-drum into a bristling, and at times magical, environment.
 
To repeat, this is a film about a young, black, gay, working-class protagonist being shown in multiplexes and running for Academy Awards. The importance of these facts cannot be understated. Moonlight offers an even-handed and clear-eyed look at the problems at the route of American social and racial inequality in a way that feels desperately urgent, without ever appearing mawkish. The final moments are some the most tantalising and subtle in recent cinema. This is the must-watch of the year, if not the last few years – and you’d be a fool to miss it.  

Catch Moonlight at cinemas worldwide from 17 February.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

The Brighton Fringe 2017

The Brighton Fringe 2017

Enjoy the very best of comedy, theatre and entertainment this summer at the Brighton Fringe 2017!

The Londoners: Portrait of a Working City 1447 - 1980

The Londoners: Portrait of a Working City 1447 - 1980

See the forgotten faces and identities of London's past.

April in London: Things to do with the Family

April in London: Things to do with the Family

So finally the long Winter months of trying to think of exciting indoor family activities have ended, and it’s finally time to enjoy the outdoors to…

Wimbledon Open Studios

Wimbledon Open Studios

4 days, 150+ artists, 8 floors of original, affordable art & free entry!

‘I Never Shy Away From a Challenge’ - An Interview with Imelda Staunton

‘I Never Shy Away From a Challenge’ - An Interview with Imelda Staunton

Born in Archway to first-generation Irish Catholic immigrants, Imelda Staunton had a natural flair for performing. After training at RADA, she spent six years in…

How to: Get Your Dog Fix in London

How to: Get Your Dog Fix in London

Are you certified ‘dog crazy’ but just can’t commit to owning your own dog? Maybe you’re not one of those lucky people who can bring their pooch…

Top 5: Immersive Experiences in London in 2017

Top 5: Immersive Experiences in London in 2017

If going to the theatre for you still means sitting quietly in a darkened auditorium, it’s time to think again. Immersive theatre puts its audiences firmly…

The American Dream: pop to the present at The British Museum

The American Dream: pop to the present at The British Museum

‘One from Many’ is the meaning of the United States’ national motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’. It sums up aspirations of national unity and moral example that have…

This Week 24 – 30 April

This Week 24 – 30 April

Rounding off April, we’re lucky enough to have yet another bank holiday and long weekend to look forward to. Keep yourself busy in London with the…

Neruda - An Interview with Gael Garcia Bernal

Neruda - An Interview with Gael Garcia Bernal

Neruda is not a typical biopic, but then again, Gael García Bernal is not a typical actor. A football fanatic and political activist, the Mexican star…

Most popular

Annual Tulip Festival at Arundel Castle

Annual Tulip Festival at Arundel Castle

Be wowed by over 36,000 beautiful tulips in the enchanting gardens of Arundel Castle in West Sussex.
The Brighton Fringe 2017

The Brighton Fringe 2017

Enjoy the very best of comedy, theatre and entertainment this summer at the Brighton Fringe 2017!
Eroica by The Little Orchestra

Eroica by The Little Orchestra

The Little Orchestra return with their uniquely relaxed and unpretentious approach to classical music.
The Londoners: Portrait of a Working City 1447 - 1980

The Londoners: Portrait of a Working City 1447 - 1980

See the forgotten faces and identities of London's past.
Giacomo Balla: Designing the Future

Giacomo Balla: Designing the Future

An exciting exhibition of the work of Giacomo Balla, one of the undisputed masters of modern Italian art.
A Guide to the Best Charity Shops in London

A Guide to the Best Charity Shops in London

Join us on a hunt for treasure through London's best secondhand shops.
Nell Gwynn at the Globe

Nell Gwynn at the Globe

Get swept up in the joyful drama of the Globe’s new rags to riches tale Nell Gwynn.
Short Courses at Central Saint Martins

Short Courses at Central Saint Martins

Choose from a huge range of fascinating short courses, including photography, architecture, fashion, journalism, illustration, textiles, curation and more!
Top 5: Immersive Experiences in London in 2017

Top 5: Immersive Experiences in London in 2017

Immersive experiences are a huge trend for 2017. We pick out some of the best experiences in the capital this year.
St Pancras Easter Egg Hunt

St Pancras Easter Egg Hunt

Get your investigator’s hat on this Easter with St Pancras International’s Easter Egg Hunt, an amazing puzzle game stretched across the station – with awesome prizes.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!