Where is you, Chiron?
I’m me, man. I ain’t tryin’ to be nothin’ else.
Does Moonlight need another glowing review? At this juncture, shouldn’t the reviewer have something new to say or else just let it go? The answers are, probably, “no” and “yes,” but I’m ignoring all that because, whether or not it needs another effusive review about how transcendent it is, Moonlight is getting one. I admit going into this movie a big cynically; I was expecting it to fail to live up to expectations and I’ll admit, it takes a few minutes to really show you how special it is, but it didn’t just live up to my expectations, it far surpassed them. Moonlight, as if anyone needs a pitch, is the story of a young black man, told in three separate chapters in which he’s played by three different actors as a young child, a high-schooler and a young adult gangbanger. The script is incredibly well-done and not just structurally; it’s filled with dialogue that is both incredibly real and somehow also aching and profound. But it’s also spare; the main character speaks only occasionally and very briefly, but we find ourselves sucked right into his world in a really powerful way. It’s a slow film that’s remarkable in almost every way, really. Jenkins’ direction is rooted in harsh reality, but it finds a beautiful, minimal poetry. The score/soundscape is beautifully done by Nicholas Britell and the cinematography by James Laxton is gorgeous in a quiet, atmospheric way. The performances add up to the best ensemble of the year. The three Chirons are all excellent, particularly Ashton Sanders who finds both a horrible vulnerability and a powerful resentment in the high-school age Chiron and Trevante Rhodes who creates a genuinely tragic figure in the final section as the young man version of Chiron, a version that puts up an intense front, but hides sorrow behind his eyes. Chiron’s friend Kevin is particularly well done by Andre Holland in the final section of the film, but Jharrel Jerome has an easy, natural charisma as the teenage Kevin. Naomi Harris is a revelation as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother; it’s a part that could easily slip into cliché, but Harris gives the performance incredible heart. Mahershala Ali is wonderful in the first section as a troubled drug dealer who finds himself taking the young Chiron under his wing. This movie is filled with moments of incredible power: a swimming lesson in the first segment and the painful scene that closes that scene; a pained, gorgeous moment of connection on the beach and a raw moment of rage in the second; a lengthy section at a diner in the third. These are moments that are among some of the truly great film scenes. It’s a movie of undeniable, powerful humanity that marshals all of the excellence on display above into a movie that is somehow still more than the sum of its already wonderful parts. It’s a deeply moving, powerfully emotional experience and one that has stuck with me for weeks now. Moonlight isn’t a movie you’ll soon forget. 4 stars.
tl;dr – deeply moving, intensely evocative film musters a brilliant creative team and still manages to be more than the sum of its parts. 4 stars.