Moonlight (2016)


A powerhouse of raw emotions that’s handled with remarkable care, shot with soaring compassion & told with astounding composure, Moonlight is a riveting character study that covers the themes of identity, masculinity & sexuality in an incredibly authentic manner, happens to have an in-depth understanding of its subject matter, and presents it with absolute honesty & patience to ultimately deliver a timeless tale that resonates on a deeply personal level.

Moonlight chronicles a young black man’s struggle to find himself and is told in three stages, each capturing a defining event in his life. In the first segment, he’s introduced as a shy & withdrawn kid who’s found by a drug dealer in his house and eventually opens up to him. The next part covers his stint with love & heartbreak in high-school, after which the story jumps a decade and shows him in a new avatar but carrying the same fragility beneath the tough exterior.

Written & directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight takes ample space & time to shape up its character and allows him to breathe & develop at his own pace. Expertly utilising elements like rough neighbourhood, negligent parent & never-ending bullying to add more flesh to the arc, Jenkins is able to provide his scripted persona a soul of his own and brings his inner conflict to surface with fine understanding of human behaviour & what it’s like to live in a state of constant fear.

The screenplay nicely deconstructs its central figure as Jenkins goes for visual, poetic storytelling and succeeds in expressing more with lesser words. The three-act structure does help in keeping the narrative more focused but the space between each segment nonetheless leaves a void of its own. Also, the different people who weave in-n-out of our protagonist’s life don’t get much screen time yet they have certain attributes that defines them while the main character is more or less like an empty shell.

The technical aspects are finely executed, and are very much in tune with what you’d expect from an indie feature. Jenkins experiments with different camera angles & colour grading techniques to provide a distinct look n feel and some of those results do lift up its imagery by an extent. Editing allows the plot to unfold at an unhurried pace but there are instances when a few sequences end up overstaying their welcome. And the background score is always in sync with its unraveling plot and silently uplifts the whole experience.

Coming to the performances, Moonlight packs a highly committed cast in Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali & others, and this very aspect is the film’s highlight. Rhodes, Sanders & Hibbert play the leading character to near-perfection and capture his inner turmoil & ache with astonishing flair to stand out in their respective segments. Ali isn’t around for long but still leaves a lasting mark, while Harris chips in with an excellent showcase in the role of the protagonist’s crack-addict mother.

On an overall scale, Moonlight is undeniably an emotionally absorbing & powerfully moving cinema that’s all the more strengthened by muscular performances from its cast and skilful execution from its filmmaker. Each one of the three actors playing the leading part leave a lasting impression, with Hibbert & Sanders expressing Chiron’s suppressed emotions with accuracy while Rhodes taking it a step further by perfectly demonstrating a longing soul beneath his sturdy persona. While I’m not as enamoured by it as everyone else seems to be, Barry Jenkins’ sophomore effort still makes up for a sensory experience that will reverberate most with those who can relate to it. Definitely worth your time & money.