by Mikael Trench
What has commonly been known as one of the best movies of 2016, “Moonlight” has been getting a lot of attention lately due to its eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. The film has been receiving Best Film and Picture awards from all over due to its great acclaim from critics and audiences alike. But is the film really worth all the acclaim ,or is this simply another overrated Oscar bait film?
The film follows a young man named Chiron throughout the stages of his life as a child, a teenager and a grown man, and the struggles he goes through living in the ‘hood while coming to terms with new things he is discovering about himself. This is only made more difficult by the different characters who show up in his life, including a drug dealer he befriends as a child, his drug-addicted mother, several bullies and a person he ends up having special feelings for throughout his life.
To put it simply, “Moonlight” is easily one of the rawest movies to have been released during the 2010s. The way in which the character of Chiron is developed and explored is utterly fascinating and the film does a superb job at making it feel real and natural. The entire environment Chiron lives in is realized magnificently, giving a true reality to the feeling of growing up in an urban setting, while not coming off as melodramatic or cliche at any moment. The interactions between Chiron and many of the characters also has a deep sense of rawness and reality to it, giving certain scenes weight and even tension at some moments.
The film’s use of direction, editing, sound design and cinematography also blend wonderfully together. The camera work is shaky and always fast, which is often a flunk for most movies, but this film makes it work, as it makes what is occurring on the screen even more real and personal for the viewer. Other times, the film will force its audience to focus on characters and their thoughts or conversations in brilliant ways, whether it be by closeups of characters during conversations, or muting outside noises to further focus on a character’s expressions and thoughts. Coupled with some well-paced editing and you have a film that is visualized in a strong and simplistic style like no other movie before it.
The performances were also a major highlight. All three actors who played Chiron — Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes — all did a spectacular job playing the character, each bringing their own taste, but still keeping the grit that was required to get this role to work. The other standout performances belong to Mahershala Ali as Juan, a drug dealer who befriends Chiron as a kid, and Naomie Harris as Paula, Chiron’s drug-addicted mother. Both brought a lot of the emotion needed to help move the plot along, and their interactions with Chiron are easily the most engaging throughout the film. The two actors very much deserve their respective Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.
“Moonlight” is nothing short of a masterful piece of filmmaking. Sure, it can feel a bit pretentious at moments, but what works well largely overshadows those aspects. Director Barry Jenkins has given us a stunning film in a refreshingly innovative package that is sure to stick in the minds of audiences for a long time. For those who love movies and want to see how something deep and complex can be executed in a simple, yet effective manner, then “Moonlight” is a must-see.
Overall realistic tone without resorting to cliches
Beautifully edited and shot