Movie Review: ‘Moonlight’

David Zavala, Editor

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Moonlight is a glimmering example of what a great movie can achieve through its well developed and carefully constructed character arc of a man who tries to answer the enduring question: Who am I?


Moonlight chronicles the life of Chiron who transitions from a confused and broken boy to one who has lost his innocence: a man who has been exposed to the cruel world of the Miami ghettos. As depressing as this all sounds, it’s a realistic and heartbreaking approach to the consequences of a man who has grown up in an environment that alienates him and deprives him of any human connection for only one reason: his homosexuality.


Director, Barry Jenkins does a masterful job of bringing out the absolute best in his actors in this picture. Every character matters, and the actors only enhance what they are feeling and why. Jenkins decided to tell the story of Chiron in three, what I like to call, episodes that combine into one cohesive narrative. In each episode a different actor portrays Chiron. One of the film’s miracles is that every version of Chiron absolutely works in a superb and brilliant way that very few films can only dream of. In addition, the supporting cast cannot be overlooked. Especially Mahershala Ali, who plays Chiron’s somewhat father-mentor figure, Juan. Mahershala Ali creates a riveting and intriguing individual who evokes coolness-as cheesy as that may sound it works very well. The mind boggling thing about it is that Ali is able to say so much about his character without saying much at all. He relies on his expressive emotions to lure the viewer in, and he does it effortlessly.


In episode one, Alex R. Hibbert plays Chiron as a  reserved and shy kid who who is struggling with his place in the world. Following that momentum, Ashton Sanders does his part in further developing Chiron and portrays the character beautifully at, arguably, the film’s climax. Then, Trevante Rhodes is able to conclude the character’s perplexed desires, hopes, and dreams in the bittersweet finale that is sure to bring out some tears.


It cannot be overstated how well cinematographer, James Laxton, is able to capture the beauty of the colorful palette of beaches, to the distorted and relentless look at the poor neighborhoods of Miami. If you were able to take any shot of the film, it would be able to say how the film looks and feels at that moment. That is how good Laxton’s camerawork is. He crafts a story without words but rather through his attentive detail to documenting the character’s emotions, the vistas of Miami, and the harsh realities that Chiron faces.


If there is any film that defines this decade it is Moonlight. A masterpiece of a film, Moonlight is a human tale that depicts some of the worst things humanity can do to a man emotionally. Despite all of this, it is a hopeful story that suggests that we may never find the answers to who we are because we are constantly changing from one stage of life to the next. When the credits finally roll, you may find yourself wanting for more and that is the beauty of Moonlight. It grows on you subtly and then, right when you feel invested, it cuts to black. It is one of the rare films that I never wanted to see end because it left me with more questions than the answers.


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