Classic Movie Reviews

Classic Review: Moonlight (2016)

Since I’ve started this site, I’ve written a lot of reviews. In case you missed some of my earlier ones, I would like to share an older review of “Moonlight” which originally appeared here.

A young man deals with his dysfunctional home life and comes of age in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

The buzz-worthy films continue with Moonlight. It’s hard to avoid all the praise this film has received since its release. I was particularly looking forward to this one. It has been released in many cities already but not mine until now but after watching it, it was definitely worth the wait.

The film chronicles the life of a man named Chiron through three important stages in his life, as a young child, a questioning teen, and a young adult. The film weaves seamlessly between chapters covering each stage with different actors depicting the stages of his life. They are different but it is easy to look past it. This is a coming of age story where Chiron tries to figure out his own identity, learning from his environment and upbringing in a drug-riddled part of Miami.

The first chapter featured Chiron as a young child (Alex R. Hibbert). The first time we see him, he is being bullied by some kids from his neighborhood. While trying to escape bullies, he runs into a Cuban drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali). Perhaps seeing something in him, he takes him back to his home and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe). By feeding him and giving him a place to sleep, he begins to trust them and tells them where he lives so they can take him back home to his mother Paula (Naomie Harris). 

His father is out of the picture so it is only the two of them. There we learn why he flocked to Juan in the first place. He has a troubled home life. His mom is never there and when she is, she is always angry at him. Of course it didn’t help that she was a drug addict which may or may not be the cause of the aggression. As her addiction worsened, things got worse for him, leading him to go to Juan and Teresa whenever things got bad. They were almost the parents he never had. They were his only support system during a primarily lonely childhood for him. Chiron is haunted by something his mother angrily said to him in a drug-fueled rage that becomes clearer later on but stays with him nonetheless.

The second chapter featured Chiron as a teen (Ashton Sanders). As bad as it was for him as a child, they get worse for him as a teen. His mother’s addiction is even worse and his bullies are also worse. Here Chiron is mostly shy and keeps to himself but that still doesn’t keep him out of the crosshairs of his bullies. Despite that, he still has Juan and Teresa and also has his friend named Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). They were very close as he was the only one he could talk to and one day got closer until one day they didn’t. His timidness went away in a very satisfying moment where he finally stood up for himself and thus sealing his future.

The final chapter featured Chiron as an adult (Trevante Rhodes). He has led a rough life and he has changed dramatically since we saw him last. He has become a man who has been led on a dark path. The film implies that he has seen some things that we don’t get to see. One night he gets a call from Kevin (André Holland), wanting to reconnect. Chiron decides to see him after a ten year absence.

Chrion’s journey was gripping from start to finish. Seeing him grow up and find himself was compelling. This was thanks to the range of emotions present. The emotional scenes were very strong because they felt very real and not forced. Characters were interesting and had depth to them. When it came to dialogue, what was said was just as important as what wasn’t said. Dialogue was framed in such a way that forced us to focus on how the characters looked at each other and around them during conversations. The film’s resounding message about overcoming adversity regardless of one’s environment is endearing and works well with Chiron due to of his likeability and relatability.

The cinematography and the use of music helped to set the mood and made the film more immersive. The film’s use of color helped to depict the mood of characters and scenes while also leaving subtle layers. Its depiction of Miami was gritty and realistic and added to the believability of Chiron’s journey. The score and soundtrack helped to nicely set the mood of scenes. The use of sound and silence added tension and emphasized more emotional moments.

The performances here were excellent with the supporting performance being the standouts. Ali was great, in limited screen time, as Chiron’s mentor Juan. His calm and caring nature was fun to watch. He had great chemistry with Hibbert. He was just a means to an end but it would have been nice if they had developed that relationship a little more as Juan had depth to him. Monae was also great as Juan’s girlfriend Teresa. The best of them, without a doubt, was Harris as Paula. She was excellent at portraying Paula’s downfall from addiction. She went from caring mother, scaringly desperate, to downright nasty very quickly. The actors who played Chiron were great as well. Even though he was played by three different actors, he was always likable. The most notable of the three was Sanders as teen Chiron. He was the best at illustrating his eruption of emotion during the middle chapter.

Just a warning, some may not like the abruptness of the end but after some reflection (on my part), it works based on the rest of the film.

Overall, this was a beautiful, emotionally gripping film with a great script and excellent performances.

Score: 9.5/10

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