Moonlight ★★★★

Three key moments in the life of Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), a young and introverted African-American struggling with his identity, are explored in Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age drama co-starring André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomi Harris and Mahershala Ali.

There’s something so lyrical about the way Chiron’s story is put together, Jenkins using a subjective, almost dreamlike style to bring us into Chiron’s world and see the events of the story from his perspective. We frequently see him right in the middle of the frame, isolated from the other characters, everything out of focus around him, an profound and affecting way of conveying his loneliness and lack of connection to the people around him.

The film confronts some very dark themes including drug addiction and abuse, but never lets that darkness overwhelm the story, which remains refreshingly understated and empathetic. Chiron’s sexuality is an important part of the story, but it’s not the only thing that defines him, the character feeling multifaceted and complex, and Jenkins steers away from stereotypes, making each character developed and realistic.

Ali won an Oscar for his role as Chiron’s father figure, a drug dealer, and is utterly compelling, creating a warm and understanding character who acts as the emotional centre of the film. He really sets the tone for the overall story, and I don’t think that the film quite reaches the emotional level of his scenes when he’s not in it.

Rhodes is also excellent, and although Chiron is quite hard to read at each stage of his development he manages to show the frightened child behind the tough exterior. The female characters are really well drawn, but could have been explored even more as they become sidelined after a while, though Harris’ Oscar-winning turn as Chiron’s mother adds enough complexity and depth to the role to make it stand out. 

I found the film moving, especially in the earlier sequences, as it’s here that it feels the most raw and powerful, looking at the way Chiron is bullied and seeks solace in the sympathetic people around him. I think the last segment, though touching, is a bit too much of a leap forward in Chiron’s life, the change seeming too rapid, which breaks the flow a little. It manages to bring the story full circle, and has one of the best two handers of the entire film as part of the diner scene, but the momentum does break at times.

Moonlight could have developed some elements a little more, but is nevertheless an absorbing and moving exploration of a young man growing up and trying to find his place in the world, brought to life by a fantastic cast and a talented writer-director.

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