Blair Russell’s review published on Letterboxd:
Late February of 2017 I know that I will participate in what AMC Theatres has been doing for at least the past decade now, and that is show all the Best Picture Oscar nominees over the span of two weekends. I'll see one of the two blocks of movies, anyhow. Trying to figure out what will likely be nominated so I can put off seeing it then vs. seeing something now vs. watching to watch anything (even if it is a regular film with no chance of being nominated)... I know, “first world problems” but it's still a struggle. Despite all that, the praise I heard about this film here and elsewhere meant that I better make sure I see this on the big screen.
It was a wise decision.
On paper the story doesn't sound complicated (we follow a young black man in Miami as a kid, a teenager then a young adult) and once you see it laid out, it's not Byzantine in nature. Yet it's the execution that makes this outstanding. Those that are in a similar boat to our protagonist Chiron (a.k.a. Little and Black) will of course relate the most but many of us will relate to part of this film. As for moi, I unfortunately know what it is like to be “different”; it's not like how Chiron is different but the pain will forever be remembered by me. I also was a quiet type who did not have many friends and I certainly dealt with my share of bullying. While I had a more stable family life and did not grow up poor, the scars from all that bullying will never fully heal. Parts of the movie did hit pretty close to home for me.
As we follow those three distinct acts, Chiron's journey is always compelling. Unfortunately he has a messed up situation at home but he befriends some interesting characters, including one you wouldn't at first suspect as a surrogate father figure type but he does provided some wise sage advice. Unfortunately, there were difficult questions that he could not answer and he was put in a difficult bind, but you do feel for him as it's a bad situation and those questions, no one could adequately answer. He's not completely isolated from his peers; he also knows a compatriot, Kevin. The performances all around are great; the people who play Chiron and Kevin (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes for the former; Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and Andre Holland for the latter) all do a swell job as those characters, but also delivering noteworthy performances are Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, and Mahershala Ali.
The way it's directed and shot... magnificent. The movie takes its time and you enjoy it all as it's so compelling, and the images are usually so soothing. It's also a treat aurally: the soundtrack is pretty rad, and it was nice to hear tunes such as Barbara Lewis's Hello Stranger. But believe me, it's a lot easier to experience the movie yourself rather than me attempt to explain how they nailed it so well, used silence at the right moments, paid attention to detail and got all the minutiae right. No matter your background and the type of childhood you had, in some way you'll likely relate even a small amount to Chiron and his struggles.... it also works if you really can relate to what he goes through. The movie manages to say a lot about such things as being black in America, drug addiction, sexuality, bullying, and the way the law is enforced. Believe the hype: this is as great as many here and elsewhere has said it is. It may very well be my top movie of 2016.