Moonlight ★★★★

Barry Jenkins's low-key gem, Moonlight, came out of nowhere this year, but his coming-age-story about a young black man growing up in Miami can't help but connect with audiences, regardless of the viewer's race, gender, or sexuality. Part of that appeal comes from the central performances; three actors play the main character at three distinct times in his life: Alex Hibbert as a curious and thoughtful child, Ashton Sanders as a tortured teenager, and Trevante Rhodes as an adult playing a part of his own. All three versions of Chiron are absorbing and heartbreaking, but the actors around these men are no slouches either. Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Andre Holland all provide depth to the story, and none of these figures ever come off as shallow, despite simple descriptors such as "drug dealer" or "addict" that might easily lend themselves to superficial depictions.

Often significant life changes come faster than you even realize that they are occurring, and Jenkins captures this so well. Characters are here one minute, gone the next. Choices made quickly warp what otherwise seemed like permanent presences. Even Chiron himself appears to change dramatically between the second and third acts of the movie, but it doesn't take more than a simple phone call for Rhodes's bravado to fall away, exposing the hesitancy and insecurity that Hibbert and Sanders played so well in the earlier segments.

The pressures of society and masculinity lay thick upon Chiron, and Jenkins bittersweet glimpse at a solitary life is touching and charming. Barry Jenkins is a major up and coming voice, not just in the story he tells, but also in how he tells it. Nicholas Britell's score is light and stringy, without being irrelevant, and James Laxton's camerawork is intimate but controlled. The team behind Moonlight triumphs easily, and we benefit with one of the year's better films.

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