Chris Haydon’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's a sequence during the second act of Barry Jenkins' devastatingly restrained MOONLIGHT in which an animal menacingly circles its prey; taunting, intimidating, preparing to attack. Here's the thing though: there are no animals on screen at all, rather a gaggle of rowdy high-schoolers.
This staggeringly crafted, eloquently understated coming-of-age drama understands that less is most certainly more; that audiences are able to grasp social parallels and thematic undercurrents without a reliance on dialogue and deliberate imagery. As Academy Award Best Picture nominees go, this might be the most intimately personal. It is a sobering, dignified representation of masculinity, class, and community, feverishly awash the heady backdrop of Miami, Florida.
MOONLIGHT's use of cinematography in particular is a marvel. Neon lights consume tight spaces, whilst natural light bathes location photography. The film renders a distinctive tonal palette which feels equally earthy and dreamlike. Watching our central protagonist Chiron age and alter through a carefully calibrated three-act formula gives his characterisation palpable definition; particularly as we exit Scene ii and progress into Scene iii. The tormented, scrawny, humiliated teenager is washed away in a sink of ice water, peppered with claret. What rises from the chilly depths is a hardened, focused man.
Each act has an arc, and is defined by a different representation of Chiron - all performed with immaculate, emotive potency - but for my money, Trevante Rhodes is the star of this project. He embodies perceived rebirth; a thick, muscular new skin, teeth cloaked by gleaming grills, car equipped with handgun, and yet underneath the heightened tissue remains a fractured boy; confused, vulnerable, and isolated. His final verbal exchange broke my heart.
Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali are both brilliant in their supporting roles also, but my pick for the co-starring crew is the heartfelt and warming hues of Janelle Monae (who stars in two Best Picture nominees alongside Ali with HIDDEN FIGURES, she is going to be a star). Her intimate relationship shared with Chiron moves across acts, and plays a primary part in texturising our lead.
Jenkins has harnessed a timely and timeless film which evokes beauty and brutality thanks to a deft understating of what it means to be. Of all the Best Picture nominees at this year's Academy Awards, MOONLIGHT is the one which accurately conveys the relationship between art and life. It benefits from an absolutely exquisite final shot, too.