“Moonlight” is a focused and nuanced film chronicling one man’s journey to adulthood. On the surface it’s a simple film – the story it presents is quite specific and there are three clearly defined acts which give it a sense of clarity throughout – but it tackles real issues that people face on a daily basis such as addiction, sexuality, and identity. It doesn’t shy away from reality at any point and it boasts one of the most honest depictions of coming to terms with homosexuality that I’ve seen put to film, making it a fascinating film to watch.
The film boasts a plethora of exceptional performances, particularly in the first and second acts, but for me there were three performances which stood out; namely those of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Mahershala Ali. Sanders in particular was excellent in the second act, doing a great job in a number of difficult scenes – he held the film together at a point where for me it could’ve still gone either way, and he captured the character as established in the first act impeccably.
In my opinion, act two was by far the strongest segment of the film, but I appreciated all of them and I could understand the narrative decisions that were made throughout. Personally I found the final act slightly underwhelming, but I felt that it did what it was intended to do. The second act presented the main conflict of the film, so the job of the final act was to follow-up on this and examine the aftermath; the act did exactly that in a subdued but uplifting way, as it attempted to show that whilst Chiron (Sanders) had transitioned into Black (Trevante Rhodes) he was still the same person that we saw in the previous acts. He’d had to change to adapt to his circumstances, but the person that we saw in acts one and two was still there having been importantly altered by the events of his past.
What I’d say to anyone who is interested in watching this film is that whist it deserves all the praise that it has been getting it isn’t always captivating. You have to allow yourself to become invested to get something out of the experience, and if you can’t relate to Chiron’s situation then this may be easier said than done. I personally didn’t feel moved by anything that happened in this movie, even though much of it was tragic, and it’s actually quite difficult to put my finger on why.
Visually it’s a striking film and it never feels invasive despite the fact that you’re following a character as he navigates intimate moments in his life. The camera often dwells on the eyes of the actors involved, giving them the chance to showcase their emotions and capture the drama of everyday life, and it’s obvious that Barry Jenkins knew exactly what he wanted the film to be.
Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said that I loved this movie, and in fact it wasn’t even my favourite film of the day as I also went to see “T2 Trainspotting”. For me “Moonlight” was lacking an emotive pull despite all of its technical achievements, and the committed performances on display weren’t enough to capture my interest. I felt sorry for Chiron in the second act and I was impressed by the child actor playing him in the first (Hibbert), but I didn’t care about the character at all. To me he felt like a blank canvass, because whilst I understood that he was shy and introverted I didn’t feel like I knew who he was apart from his pain.
He came from a broken home and had a difficult school life so it was easy to empathise with his situation, but I didn’t have enough of a grasp on who he was separate to the challenging circumstances that he found himself in. I didn’t feel that I was afforded the chance to see him come out of his shell, so I didn’t have any idea as to what I was supposed to want for him by the end of the film.
This is highlighted, in my opinion, by the fact that the most memorable scene of the film is the exception to this rule – the beach scene. This scene was incredibly well done and the performances of the actors involved were perfect in giving the situation the feeling of sincerity and affection that it both needed and deserved. In this scene we get a glimpse of what Chiron wants for his future; we’re able to sympathise with the internal struggle that he’s going through as he tries to come to terms with who he is and we also get to see him be happy, which makes a big difference when you’re trying to route for him. It’s scenes like this which elevate “Moonlight” above the sum of its parts and make it worthy of the acclaim that it has received.
Stylistically “Moonlight” was well-realised and the performances were impressive. Its exploration of homosexuality was sensitive and understated, presenting Chiron’s feelings as natural and earnest which I found refreshing. It was a film with a lot to like and the cinematography was beautiful throughout, but I wasn’t fully invested. It’s definitely worth watching, but I wouldn’t recommend it over other films that are in cinemas right now.