Wednesday 8 February 2017

Film Review: Moonlight

A microbudget indie that has leapt from the festival circuit to Oscars frontrunner, Barry Jenkins' Moonlight finally hit Australian shores recently. 

Moonlight is a film of three distinct sections, each of which chart the youth and growth of Chiron, a young African-American boy growing up in a rough Miami neighbourhood as he struggles with understanding who he is whilst surrounded by drugs, poverty and intolerance.

It's the 'little film that could' this awards season; up against heavyweights like Arrival, La La Land and Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight has emerged as a favourite to scoop lots of statuettes in a few weeks after winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes in January.

It's easy to see why. Moonlight is a transfixing film. The cinematography is astounding and the use of colour - Jenkins repeatedly coats each scene in light blues, deep purples and brownish yellows - are sumptuous and turns each frame into a genuine work of art. The use of shallow focus and confronting close-ups sees the stark contrast between the world and Chiron's distance from it even more poignant.

That being said, it defies expectations by keeping something reserve. Moonlight isn't flashy or showy; there are only a handful of raw emotional outbursts. The ending isn't really an ending either; there isn't necessarily an arc too, more of a straight line on which each chapter is a dot pinpointing a specific point in Chiron's life. That approach might work for some more than others; I can definitely see some being put off by its more artful approach to narrative. The film is very slow, achingly so at times. It's a much more reflective and winding film than a straight-up beginning, middle and end.

Instead Jenkins' film opens itself up to self-projection; the questions that Chiron faces are biting and deep whilst also remaining painfully simple - who am I? Am what I want me to be? That might sound pretentious but Moonlight is anything but - it resonates without needing to put everything out and deliver winding monologues. Sometimes a quick glance or lengthy stare can say just as much as a rambling soliloquy.

Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris (both nominated for their supporting roles at the Oscars later this month) are excellent; it's amazing to think that Harris filmed her entire role in just five days without rehearsal. She is terrifying and saddening in every scene.

However it's the trio of actors who play Chiron that shine in my eyes; Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes play kid, teen and adult Chiron respectively and each put their own spin on a growing man clearly at odds with his place in the world. Each give removed and monosyllabic performances but each are also distinct and individualistic. For me it was Sanders who stood out; his slouching teenage portrayal brought an extra layer of brooding physicality to the role.

The Verdict: 8/10

Moonlight is a moving and thoughtful film that regardless of colour with be relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with knowing their place in society. The star of the show is Ashton Sanders as teenage Chiron and Mahershala Ali as well as a raft of technical aspects. The plot is curiously slight but anyone who can stick with the pacing and focus more on the central personal crisis will find a lot to love.

Moonlight is in cinemas across Australian now.


  1. Great review. I don't think it's a secret that this is my favorite movie of 2016. Do you think it will win BP at Oscars/do you want it to win??

    1. Welp, should probably have replied to this a while back ;) This comment is coming to you from the future to say yes it will indeed win the BP Oscar - but only after a shock controversy! Gasp!



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