Love is what brought you here. If you trusted love this far, don’t panic now. Trust it all the way.
With his follow-up to the transcendently great Moonlight, Jenkins has done the only thing he really could, I think, which is make a movie that is very different. This movie has a very simple story and it’s meticulously composed. Whereas Moonlight was often sort of raw and shaky, this movie is methodical and quiet and restrained. I’m talking visually now, I guess; Jenkins’ camera here is reserved and slow moving, drifting along at a relaxed, but also very purposeful, pace. The shots are carefully composed and beautiful, the lighting striking and the colors vivid. This is filmmaking in a kind of classic style that really, really works. The cast helps as well. KiKi Layne is the real discovery here as the main character; every emotion lands perfectly. It’s a performance without a wasted movement or an unnecessary action, but it’s far from stilted. She even manages to do great voice-over work, something that sinks even the best actors at times. Stephan James is also excellent; his character is deeply flawed and he communicates those flaws without sugarcoating them, but he retains such humanity that he never loses our empathy. While this could easily be a tightly focused movie, a movie that deals with these star-crossed lovers entirely, the film takes the time to allow an insanely excellent supporting cast to have their moments and it makes the characters come alive all across the board. Regina King & Coleman Domingo are perfect as the parents of the main character, believable as a couple with a long history. Teyonah Parris steals every scene she’s in as the defiant older sister. Ebony Obsidian is jaw-droppingly great as an arrogant sister of James’ character, even though she’s only in one scene. An unrecognizeable Ed Skrein (seriously, I didn’t know it was him until the credits) is creepy and frightening in a small role as a racist cop with a vendetta. Brian Tyree Henry is best of all in a two-scene role as an old friend of the James’ character. Henry had quite a year with an excellent turn in Widows, a heartfelt voice performance in Into the Spider-Verse and now the finest, in my opinion, work of his career in this film. It’s a very small role, but he contributes the most haunting scene in the film, a pained, sorrowful monologue. At the end of the day, this isn’t as instantly visceral as Moonlight nor as urgent, but that doesn’t make it a lesser film in my opinion, just a different one, one that focuses on a more classical style and, in its own way, it’s a near perfect film, another masterpiece from Jenkins and one that shows off some of his range. 4 stars.
tl;dr – meticulous, beautifully shot and powerfully acted by all concerned, this heartfelt movie is a near perfect masterpiece. 4 stars.