‘MOONLIGHT’ (2016) MOVIE REVIEW – 2016’s Boyhood With Fantastic Performances
‘Moonlight’ to put it simply is this year’s ‘Boyhood’, but where the way it tells this coming of age story is done in a similar fashion, the story is distinctly unique focusing on many different more heartbreaking and emotional themes than Linklater’s 2014 masterpiece. Moonlight is a Drama that follows the life of Chiron, a young man who as he moves through adolescence to adulthood experiences pain, heartbreak, love, and all the while is faced with struggles revolving around his troubled family and sexuality. This is a movie that drags you in with emotion, and as it progresses through the various stages of Chiron’s life you grow attached to this character who you care about and by the end feel like you fully understand. On top of the heartbreaking story, every scene of this film is expertly crafted by Barry Jenkins through great use of striking filming techniques combined with a score that is sure to stick with you once the film is over. The performances in the film are fantastic across the board. It is an all black cast and from main roles to the supporting cast everyone here gave it their all and it pays off greatly.
One of the biggest difficulties a film like this has where you are following a character through multiple stages of their life is making sure it feels like you are watching the same person all the way through. When you have multiple actors stepping in and adopting the role for different ages it can get tricky with whether they don’t fit appearance-wise or one actor might depict character traits differently from the last. But with Moonlight one of the most astounding things is that whether you are watching Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, or Trevante Rhodes portray Chiron you fully buy into the fact that this is the same person at every moment. Every character trait and nuance including the way Chiron moves, his facial expressions, how he talks, and how he gestures is so accurate and consistent from actor to actor that you might even buy into the fact that it is one actor from beginning to end. All three actors has such a grip on this character and it really did help to connect all three acts of the story together.
As for the other supporting roles, Naomi Harris and Janelle Monae, put in very strong performances that add too the story and understanding Chiron’s development and upbringing that made him the man he would become. But the one actor who undeniably steals the entire film with extremely minimal screen time is Mahershala Ali who plays Juan in the film. His performance here is truly phenomenal where in a very short amount of time he has some of the most powerful scenes, and some of the most emotional moments in the entire film. You may go into this film thinking of Ali as Remy from ‘House of Cards’ or Cottonmouth from ‘Luke Cake’, but within 5 minutes of this film beginning i promise you will forget about all that and only see him as the character he is portraying here. When it comes to Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars this year, there is no doubt in my mind the most deserving will be Ali who managed to steal this entire picture with only 15 minutes of inspiring and powerful acting.
The way this film is shot creates beauty out of every scene with camera techniques that show off some very striking and confronting visuals and convey the emotion and darker tones with no dialogue necessary. It also includes a score that is so expertly intertwined that you will find it constantly sneaking into scenes and immersing you into what is on screen without you even realising until after it stops. The dialogue is also very grounded, human, and realistically written. It is powerful and engages you in every scene and every conversation. But in terms of negatives although i did love much of the third act of the film for the ways it ties everything up i thought the pacing in this act was a little too slow. I mean, yes the entire film does hold a slow pace but with everything coming to a close i thought it was just meandering through the final act and it came to a very low key but also very satisfying ending emotionally.
So in the end this is definitely a strong contender for Best Picture and if it does win it would be very well deserved. Personally it wouldn’t be my #1 pick for the award but it definitely has a strong chance. The way the story follows Chiron through the key moments of his life is expertly handled and the three performances that go into this character are linked fantastically creating the illusion that you are following a single performance right through. But when discussion of Moonlight comes up in the future it will no doubt be focused around the performance by Mahershala Ali that is as i mentioned; so good that he steals the entire film with only 15 minutes. It is an emotional film and more of an ‘Oscar’ style film with a great story and amazing characters to drive the story forward, definitely one to check out this awards season.