Exquisite, inspired, visionary.
Films based around growing up in the hood usually have a few trademarks, whether it is the gang violence, the drugs or the prolific use of the ‘n’ word. Moonlight may take on a few of these, but in the most beautiful, distinct way, defying genre expectations to become something extraordinary.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, we follow the life of Chiron, from a young black, gay boy (Alex Hibbert), to teen (Ashton Sanders), to man (Trevante Rhodes).
Told through three different chapters, a new actor takes on Chiron each time. Ordinarily one performance may slip through the cracks, but here they are all on a groundbreaking level, each showing different emotional development and managing to engage us each step of the way. When we’re with a young, certainly promising Hibbert, he is taken under the wing of a father figure drug dealer, played by Mahershala Ali. As the first person we see in the film, he commands the camera with a charisma that comes so naturally to him but others crave. Rightly nominated for an Oscar, Ali’s compassionate take on a role so regularly given a repaint is a blessing.
We meet another important figure in Chiron’s life in the first chapter also; his crackhead mother (Naomie Harris). Harris interestingly enough initially declined the role, due to the fairly recognised stereotype of black drug addicts in films. However, everyone including herself should be thankful, for what is a harshly authentic performance in which it’s clear she hates her son – through abuse including calling him a “faggot” – but has a deep, motherly love that is buried beneath the addiction.
Another issue with coming-of-age films set in the ghettos is they’re often deprived of sun, trying to reinforce the grim surroundings. Jenkins soaks every scene in colour and beauty, whether it is a swimming lesson in the sea, or blood dripping from a battered face, or a hardened, gold-toothed Chiron driving along the moonlit roads. In exercising such style, Jenkins lets the soul of the material shine through, never letting hope fade away in even the roughest of times.
In that same regard, Moonlight can be a tough film to watch. Seeing Sanders, shortly after clearly falling for his best friend, bet to a pulp by the same boy, will fill you with despair – although the sweet revenge will make you want to cheer. Coming-of-age films have been around for decades, but never has a subject matter been tackled in a way that produces something so gorgeous, so relatable, and so groundbreaking. It may fall to La La Land come Oscar night, but Moonlight is a piece of drama that is exemplary proof that cinema continues to move forward.
To sum it up…
Moonlight is nothing short of perfection. Tackling each chapter with a compelling gravitas, it’s insightful and impeccable. A film of the decade, and for the ages.
Rating: PURE DYNAMITE!
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Author: Cameron Frew