Vince The Cinephile’s review published on Letterboxd:
What is it like to be Black in 21st century America? Sounds familiar, isn’t it? But what is it like to be Black and gay in America? Rarely do we see a film or even a show that digs sensitively if not profoundly on the basis of black masculinity in our country, and somehow Moonlight stands above as a monumental achievement. Incredibly passionate and personal, director Barry Jenkins follows the journey of a Black man in search for his identity, love, and self-discovery.
Moonlight traverses its simple storyline into something unique and affecting. Filmed in three stages of the man’s life: Little, Chiron, and Black—Jenkins was able to instigate those questions through his unique execution. If particular situations do not come as a surprise, the actions of the characters make that firework, and for that be prepare to be floored. The characters are quite familiar, as they grew within the norms and expectations of both cinematic tradition and societal reality, however Jenkins avoids his characters falling into that trap and broad categorization. In this we have a crack-addicted mother, a drug dealer with a heart of gold, a supportive wife, a bully, and finally, a boy discovering himself under the pressures of being a man—actually being a Black man—in society. We knew these people exist, and Jenkins recognize their existence with his humane, naturalistic lens. He shows the experiences of these people without judging their actions and decisions.
Each section is masterfully done. I can’t really choose which one is more powerful than the other because each sections integrate to the whole power of the film. But maybe, the most relatable is the middle section where Chiron is navigating through the turbulence of puberty. The writing is contained as it is graceful. Recalling the glances and grace of Todd Haynes’ Carol (of all things), Moonlight picks those cues and with that little dialogue, the actions comes through as a powerful tool of expression and communication. The cinematography has a grounded, almost documentary move to it which gave another layer to the essence of what the film is trying to say. The music choices are obvious however, but they’re all beautifully orchestrated in the end.
Now let’s talk about those damn performances. I’m a big fan of well-acted movies and Moonlight is certainly one of them. This is an ensemble piece—possibly the best ensemble performance of the year—and the strengths of each actor accumulate as a whole. Alex Hibbert (little), Ashton Sanders (a powerful Chiron), and Trevante Rhodes (Black) deserved an equal praise for their sensitive portrayals as one. Hibbert has the confusion, Sanders endured physical pain, and anger and finally Rhodes painted an image of a deeply scarred man who is still trying to pick himself up from his tainted past. Mahershala Ali is wonderful in here, appearing only in the first section, though his Oscar chances are quite foggy in my opinion. Not really sure if his brief appearance can take him to the gold, but I’m not complaining if he does. Naomie Harris is brilliant as the crack-addicted mother, but I felt she could’ve been more assertive in her scenes. Didn’t equal Mo’Nique’s grandstanding work in Precious, but her nuanced interpretation is still much appreciated. I like also to commend Andre Holland and Janelle Monae who are equally committed in their tiny supporting roles and both of them magnified their existence in the film.
Moonlight ends with a simple but passionate gesture. It cuts off and there I was simply cannot move in my seat. I was surprised. It took my breath away. I felt I knew this man in just that small amount of time. Only a couple of movies did that to me and Moonlight is one of them. Dear Barry Jenkins, if you’re seeing this, thank you for making such a beautiful film.
This is one of the best films of the year. I can’t make a claim right now for being the best film of 2016 as there are more couple of films to see, but believe the hype. This is the first film that got my 5-star rating this year, and this is some great stuff.