Barry Jenkins’ first directorial breakthrough film Moonlight is a beautiful, poetic-like film which tells the story of a young African-American man, Chiron, by depicting three different stages of his life. With a Golden Globe for best picture, eight Oscar nominations and a bucket full of chaos, it was revealed that Moonlight won the academy award for best picture over the expected La La Land. However, was Moonlight the better winner?
Moonlight appears to be made by someone who has been perfecting the craft of filmmaking for years. Dealing with a plethora of interesting themes such as growing up, homosexuality, identity, isolation, race and family, Moonlight packs a lot of punch in an under-two-hour runtime. It’s a film that takes time with its scenes and lets them play out naturally and slowly, yet it manages to keep viewers interested as Chiron grapples with issues in a world which does not understand him.
The way the story is told, the use of editing by seamlessly mixing quick cuts with long takes and the maturity of the direction is nothing short of flawless. Despite being his first major film, Jenkins delivers the story in a way that manages to toggle with down-to-earth realistic drama whilst also presenting it in a way which is almost dream-like. The cinematography and colour palette is over-saturated, which brings the bright colours to the foreground of the shot and making it feel surreal. These shots are especially stunning in the night-time scenes on the beach and outside a diner where the neon is especially prominent. Adding to the surreal element of the film, the score is mainly comprised of swelling violins and piano, creating something which is beautiful and also haunting.
“Moonlight is a much more interesting, realistic and well-realised account of what it is to grow up and deal with the problems one may face along the way”
However, one of the main selling points of this film is its performances. Every single person in the film is fantastic; blending into their characters to the point where they all seem like real people. Mahershala Ali and Naomi Harris are definitely the stand-outs as they’re the flashiest but that’s not to undermine the subtlety of everyone else in the film. Another refreshing thing about this film is the level of professionalism of the child actors. Child actors can be hit and miss in terms of quality but I can safely say that everyone in Moonlight is great. I kept waiting for someone in the acting department to falter but everyone involved in this film brought their best performances to the table.
Some audiences may take an issue with the ending and the non-traditional plot of the film. Despite having a solid three-act structure, the story meanders and is more true to life than that of a traditional good vs bad conflict. This is certainly a character-driven movie with everyone having their own respective human flaws. Some may also find the lack of dialogue, especially in the first half, fairly frustrating. I personally loved the visual aspect of the film and the fact the actors were allowed to say all they needed using their facial expressions. However, I can see some audiences not gravitating to the more visual approach and the slow-pace.
Having seen 2014’s Boyhood after hearing about the hype, I was left underwhelmed with what felt like a bland film with a gimmick that became tiring quickly. Although using different actors to portray the characters growing up, Moonlight is a much more interesting, realistic and well-realised account of what it is to grow up and deal with the problems one may face along the way. It differs in that it also deals with race and homosexuality but handles these ideas in a way that feels natural and lets the audience think about them as opposed to being on the nose in its message.
One could argue that ‘Moonlight’ won due to its political relevance, however, that would be undermining how brilliant the film is. It may not have the technical prowess of La La Land, but the story and the way it’s told makes it a more than worthy winner.
A beautiful and technically outstanding film which is highly realistic whilst also feeling surreal. It may be a slow-burn for some but a rewarding and poetic film which is one of the more unique experiences you will have at the cinema this year.
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Media courtesy of A24, Plan B Entertainment.