This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
YouHadMeAtJell-o’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
A deeply profound, thoughtful and moving film about a young black man, Chiron, growing up in Florida while trying to come to terms with being gay. It's a culturally important film that explores masculinity but more specifically sexuality, and how difficult it must be for black men (and ultimately men of any ethnicity in similar social and economic situations) to be themselves when expected to fit the particular bills of gangster or "hard" (and not in the way that feels good).
It joyfully manages to subvert stereotype and expectations while refusing to ignore the reality of Chiron's situation. There is a problem with education and ultimately acceptance in some socio-political western societies, but the acknowledgement that everyone in this world isn't a thug, be it dealer or addict, is what gives it its strong sense of realism. Much of that comes from Mahershala Ali's fleeting but no less memorable turn as Juan who becomes a father figure to a young Chiron. He might be a drug dealer who looks rather intimidating in the sort of way that you'd see his mugshot on a 'scare you straight' leaflet, but in reality he's thoughtful, intelligent, and whatever your relative moral code may be, despite the fact that he's a drug dealer I would argue that he is good. His no-nonsense acceptance of Chiron's sexuality is heartening but impeccably blighted by guilt and shame at the same time for his own life, highlighting how every scene has so many different layers, just how every moment of reality does.
But other than being important, it's a brilliantly made film. As the opening long take shows us that even though this is a film high on realism, that doesn't mean it can't look beautiful at the same time. Many social realism dramas go for an overly gritty look with a colour damaging filter to expose the hopelessness of these worlds, which is sometimes a good choice, but instead here Barry Jenkins and his cinematographer, James Laxton, manage to find the beauty in this world, tinged with a heavily blue and purple colour palette basking in moonlight.
It's not a film for everyone (I saw two people walk out of my screening about two-thirds of the way in when there was only about ten people in attendance from the start), and I don't just mean for racists or homophobes. Splitting the narrative into three periods of Chiron's life means that some moments in his life aren't given so much development, such as his time in juvenile hall. It would be satisfying to know how Juan died, but conversely perhaps for some it may be more satisfying to leave it to the imagination - being a young and seemingly healthy man it can only be presumed that his death was as a heartbreaking result of his drug dealing status.
This is also undoubtedly because Ali's performance was so brilliant, deserving of the Oscar even though he wasn't in the film for very long (although his character's presence was long felt). Having still not watched Marvel's Luke Cage, I'm even more excited to start it upon discovering that Ali plays the antagonist, because I must admit that I wasn't too keen on his role in Hidden Figures (which is more of a problem with the writing rather than his performance).
I can't wait to see what Ali does in the future, as with the rest of the stunning cast. The casting of the three young Chiron's was perfect. Instead of worrying too much about whether they all looked identical (especially when it comes Trevante Rhodes' ripped adult), Jenkins instead made the right decision in making sure they could all act. Rhodes specifically stood out - in Atlanta an intimidating, confident guy; in Miami faced with his childhood crush all of a sudden he looks just like the character and Ashton Sanders did as a teenager - all nerves and self-doubt, where even the shy smile remains the same, despite the change in actors.
I've now seen every film nominated for Best Picture at these Oscars, and it's nice to be able to say that there wasn't one that I didn't enjoy. It was a great year for cinema, and although my personal favourite of the bunch was Arrival, Moonlight is without a doubt a worthy a winner.