phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
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

Modern Mystics: The Book of Hours

Modern Mystics: The Book of Hours

Innovative contemporary music is accompanied by projections and video art in an evocative, mystical concert.

In The Footsteps of Mary Seacole

In The Footsteps of Mary Seacole

A talk, a show and Caribbean BBQ

Win a Horror Film Goody Bag!

BFI - Win a Horror Film Goody Bag!

If you’re looking for a suitably scary way to spend your Halloween this year, then look no further. We are offering one lucky winner a fantastic...

This Week 16-22 October

This Week 16-22 October

London once again delivers an amazing variety of things to do and see this week. There’s an amazing museum late that pairs a 17th century collection…

City of London Sinfonia presents Modern Mystics

City of London Sinfonia presents Modern Mystics

Three informal orchestral concerts in three unique and beautiful London venues.

This Week October 9 - 15

This Week October 9 - 15

Now that Autumn has well and truly started, you’ll want to fill up your diaries with lots of fun to stave off those seasonal blues. …

A Guide to London’s Horror Movie Hot-Spots

A Guide to London’s Horror Movie Hot-Spots

While life in the capital is fraught with numerous mundane terrors, like the District Line at rush hour, the dreaded words “This bus is on diversion”,…

Win Two Tickets to an Italian Art Exhibition

Estorick Collection - Win Two Tickets to an Italian Art Exhibition

We've got a pair of tickets to give away to the Estorick exhibition on the influential Italian art movement, Arte Povera.

Win 4 Grandstand Tickets

The Lord Mayor’s Show - Win 4 Grandstand Tickets

We've got a family ticket to give away to watch a spectacular, historic show.

Messiah By Candlelight

Messiah By Candlelight

Love classical music? See Handel's Messiah performed live in an evocative setting this December.

Most popular

Win a 3 Course Lunch for 2!

Park Chinois, Mayfair - Win a 3 Course Lunch for 2!

Hand-crafted dim sum, fine wine & luxurious Mayfair surroundings.
Win 2 Tickets to The Snow Kingdom

Backyard Cinema - Win 2 Tickets to The Snow Kingdom

Secret caves of ice, a festive frozen lake & brilliant classic films!
Win a Horror Film Goody Bag!

BFI - Win a Horror Film Goody Bag!

If you’re looking for a suitably scary way to spend your Halloween this year, then look no further.
Win a Copy of the Big Sick on DVD

Studiocanal - Win a Copy of the Big Sick on DVD

We're giving away three copies of Rotten Tomatoes' best reviewed film of summer 2017!
Win 4 Grandstand Tickets

The Lord Mayor’s Show - Win 4 Grandstand Tickets

We've got a family ticket to give away to watch a spectacular, historic show.
Win 2 tickets to the Street Fan Exhibiton

Fan Museum - Win 2 tickets to the Street Fan Exhibiton

The Fan Museum are giving away tickets to a special exhibition.
Win Two Tickets to Timberlina’s FFS!!

Camden People's Theatre - Win Two Tickets to Timberlina’s FFS!!

A brand new glittering alt-drag, rock n roll eco-show for a vexed generation.
Win tickets to Ivan Putrov’s Men in Motion

London Coliseum - Win tickets to Ivan Putrov’s Men in Motion

Watch 100 years of dance in 100 minutes in this thrilling celebration of the male dancer.
Win 2 tickets to The Stolen premiere

Win 2 tickets to The Stolen premiere

Don't miss the chance to see this new Western
A Cultural Guide to Bethnal Green

A Cultural Guide to Bethnal Green

London Calling guide you through the Bethnal Green's greatest hits

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!