Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Review: MOONLIGHT (2016)


Director: Barry Jenkins
Genre: Drama
Starring: Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris,
Runtime: 111 min
Rating: R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

"Moonlight" is a rare success story. A small indie film with a budget of only 5 million that managed to rise to universal acclaim and eight Oscar nominations. Having been bombarded with all the hype and accolades, I finally had the opportunity to see what it was all about, and I must admit I was somewhat disappointed.

The film chronicles the coming-of-age-story of Chiron, a young gay black man who struggles with his sexuality as he grows up in a crime-ridden Miami neighborhood. His life is explored in three critical moments of his life. As a child (Alex Hibbert) he suffers abuses from bullies and his drug addict mother (Naomie Harris), and his only friend is a boy named Kevin (Jaden Piner), who in time will become more than just a friend. He has the good fortune to fall under the protective wing of local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), who becomes a mentor of sorts, oferring him much needed emotional stability and some sound advice about knowing who you really are. The story then moves on to Chiron as a teenager (Ashton Sanders), still bullied and even more conflicted, and then as an adult (Trevante Rhodes) who makes a living selling drugs, wears a gold grill and hides his real self underneath a facade of violence.

Moonlight Movie Image 1

Based on the unproduced play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the subject matter is indeed unique and even more unique is that the film approaches the topic not with the usual grittiness and "The Wire" style of realism, but with a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere, complete with colorful cinematography and ecletic soundtrack. It's an interesting idea, but aside from its poetic ambitions, it does little to further its point. As a piece of urban poetry it's fine, selling its emotional points well and underlining them with flawless technical precision, but it fails its narrative objectives. I found myself falling in and out of the film. It has several strong moments throughout, but as a whole, it doesn't add up to a very compelling story.

Moonlight Movie Image 2

The acting is the film's strong suit. Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes are excellent in their difficult roles, almost feeling as if they are one and the same person, which is exactly the point. At times the film reminded me of Morgan Freeman's monologue in "The Shawshank Redemption", when he sais something along the lines of wanting to talk to himself when he was a young, stupid kid, and talk some sense to him, explain how things are. That's pretty much the bridge that these actors have to cross, and they do it brilliantly. Mahershala and Harris are also fine in supporting roles, but I feel like their awards buzz is a bit over-the-top. They are perfectly serviceable in their roles, but I'm not sure they live up to the hype.

It probably sounds like I hate this movie. I don't. It's a good movie. It's not great, though. Having a major producer like Brad Pitt on the credits no doubt helped the film build its hype and opened a lot of festival circuit doors, leading up to the awards craze. The social controversies that plague the United States no doubt offered the perfect context for this film to rise more than others. It was a perfect storm situation. But, the film itself, at least to me, isn't nearly as perfect as everyone seems to think it is, and in time, after the dust settles, it might be judged for what it really is. A pretty looking and serviceable exercise that touches on an important topic but goes nowhere with it.



  • Solid Acting
  • Excellent atmosphere through cinematography and soundtrack elevates the film above gritty cliches

  • Never fully explores its subject
  • Pacing is all over the place
  • Focuses too much on being poetic and not enough on the story and characters



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