Moonlight, Written and Directed by Barry Jenkins – review by Calum Maclean
Written and Directed by Barry Jenkins
Based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Cast – Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali and Patrick Decile
Running Time – 110 Minutes
Hotly tipped to be one of next year’s major awards contenders, Moonlight is a powerfully understated drama of repressed sexuality, unrequited love and the destructive grip of crack cocaine. The film follows Chiron, a young black man growing up in Miami, during three formative periods in his life, conveying complex emotional turmoil with wonderful subtlety in direction and performance.
Divided into three chapters, Chiron’s story is portrayed by three different actors, each exploring his burgeoning homosexuality and fraught relationship with his volatile mother Paula (Harris). The first chapter deals with the early bigotry Chiron experiences, and the solace he finds in local drug dealer and father figure Juan (Ali). The second and third chapters document Chiron’s sexual awakening as a sensitive teen and the starkly different path he takes as an adult. The three young actors make brilliant use of Jenkins’ minimalist script, infusing long silences with body language and sparing eye contact that express longing, frustration and loneliness brilliantly. This is especially the case in scenes between Chiron and his school friend Kevin, also played by three actors, as their increasingly complex relationship is communicated with emotional subtlety and intelligence. What really impresses about this use of multiple performers is the way each actor echoes the mannerisms of the others in a way that doesn’t come across as imitation, but is instead wholly believable. There is a real sense of history and repressed memory in these performances, which ties in perfectly with the central themes of the story.
In addition to the excellent central performances, the supporting cast bring so much to the film. Mahershala Ali’s Juan introduces paternal warmth to Chiron’s childhood chapter, complicated by his role in enabling his mother’s drug habit; while Naomie Harris as Paula conveys the deterioration of addiction and outbursts of cruelty as symptoms of desperation. Also, Janelle Monae provides understanding as Chiron’s surrogate mother and Patrick Decile is intimidating as the brutal Terrel. Each of these characters have a profound effect on Chiron’s development, and their influence can all be recognised in his multi-layered third chapter identity.
This subtlety in characterisation is balanced by Nicholas Britell’s melancholy score and Barry Jenkin’s fluid direction, making great use of the Miami setting in key scenes by the sea, and creating a poetic visual experience. The film tells its story in an understated way, without political grandstanding in it message of tolerance. It simply focuses upon one young man and his inner life, challenging the viewer to rethink surface judgements and to recognise a universal sense of alienation and longing that should be familiar to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
Calum Maclean, December, 2016.
Moonlight will be screening at GFT Friday 10 – Wednesday 15 February 2017.
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