Sunday, December 30, 2018
Moonlight (2016 film)
Based on the semi-biographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight is the story of the life of a man told in three different period in time as a boy, a teenager, and as a young adult as he copes with his sexual identity and his troubled family life and environment. Written for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins from a screen story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film is a coming-of-age story that is told in an unconventional style that play into a boy’s growth into a man. Starring Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali. Moonlight is an evocative and ravishing film from Barry Jenkins.
Set largely in the Liberty City ghettos of Miami, the film follows the life of a young boy named Chiron who would later endure all sorts of struggles with his identity and environment in the course of three different periods. It’s a film that play into these different periods in Chiron’s life where he lives in the ghetto trying to survive yet is facing a much bigger prejudice for the fact that he might be gay. Barry Jenkins’ screenplay uses a simple three-act structure to play into Chiron’s life as the first act is about the adolescent Chiron as he’s called Little (Alex Hibbert) with the second act is about him as a teenager (Ashton Sanders), and the third act where he’s an adult (Trevante Rhodes). The first act has Little meet up with this drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) who finds him at an abandoned crack house after being chased by bullies. Juan would be a guide to Little as he teaches him how to swim and lead his own path in life despite the verbal abuse and neglect he gets from his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) who is becoming a crack addict.
The second act has the teenage Chiron feeling lost both in his direction and in his identity where he is bullied by a schoolmate in Terrel (Patrick Decile) and whatever money Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) gives him would often go to his mother to support her addiction. The second act also play into Chiron’s friendship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) as they were schoolmates when they were kids as it would lead to some revelations for Chiron but also heartbreak. The third act is about the adult Chiron living in Atlanta where he takes the nickname Black that Kevin used to call him as he’s a big-time drug dealer with a sense of uncertainty until he receives a call from the adult Kevin (Andre Holland) that would force him to return to Miami.
Jenkins’ direction doesn’t exactly go for anything that is stylistic other than a few flowing hand-held camera shots yet it does manage to maintain a sense of beauty through its approach to grittiness. Shot on location in the Liberty City section of Miami with a few parts of the film shot in Atlanta, Jenkins’ uses the location as an important area that is known for its crime and drug culture while it’s a world that has great demands for kids and adults to be tough. For Little, it’s a bigger hurdle in not just being black in the ghetto but much more dangerous in being a young African-American kid in the ghetto who is gay. There are wide shots in Jenkins’ direction yet it’s more about creating a mood through the compositions he is creating as well as these events that would shape the life of Chiron. One notable scene at Juan’s home with Teresa is where Little asks about being called a faggot where it is presented with a simplicity but also with some low-key dramatic tension. Even as Juan is forced to realize the faults of masculinity among African-Americans as he also has to deal with the fact that he’s played a part in Little’s troubled relationship with his mother.
The second act has Jenkins take on something far more unpredictable but also in its approach to violence where the teenage Chiron has to take a stand but also see the horror of how much his mother’s addiction has become. There is also this moment on the beach as the scenes of the beach are this recurring symbol of serenity and peace that Chiron craves for. Even in the first act where Juan teaches Little how to swim as it’s this world that he can escape into while the second act has him and Kevin in an intimate scene that would mark a major change in their friendship. The film’s third act does feel more up to date but Jenkins would also change the tone a bit into something that is looser but also with elements of stylish images that play into Black’s sense of longing. Even as his meeting with the adult Kevin play into not just nostalgia but also regret into the life he was accepted for who he is. Overall, Jenkins crafts a majestic yet intoxicating film about the life of a boy becoming a man in three different parts of his life.
Cinematographer James Laxton does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of naturalistic and colorful lights for much of the film’s daytime exterior scenes is matched with its usage of filters and stylish lights for the interior/exterior scenes set at night. Editors Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon do amazing work with the editing as its usage of slow-motion and other stylish cuts play into the drama with Sanders doing the film’s first two acts while McMillon does the film’s third act to create a different tone for each section. Production designer Hannah Beachler, with set decorator Regina McLarney and art director Mabel Barba, does excellent work with the look of the home that Juan and Teresa live in as well as the different homes Chiron would stay in.
Costume designer Caroline Eselin does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with the exception of the school uniforms that Little would wear along with some of the clothes that Paula wore. Sound editors Joshua Adeniji and Benjamin L. Cook do brilliant work with the film’s sound as it help convey the atmosphere of the location along with the sound of waves in nearby location as it brings a calm to the dramatic moments of the film. The film’s music by Nicholas Britell is phenomenal for its rich and mesmerizing orchestral-based score with lush string arrangements that play into the drama and chaos that Chiron endures for much of his life as it’s a score that is devastating yet serene in its presentation while music supervisor Maggie Phillips creates a soundtrack that mixes hip-hop and soul music from artists like Aretha Franklin, Boris Gardiner, Goodie Mob, Barbara Lewis, Erykah Badu, OG Ron C, and DJ Candlestick.
The casting by Yesi Ramirez is great as it feature some notable small roles from Patrick Decile as the teenage Chiron’s bully Terrel, Shariff Earp as one of Juan’s dealers in Terrence, and Stephon Bron as a dealer for Black. Janelle Monae is fantastic as Teresa as Juan’s girlfriend who is a maternal figure of sorts for the young Chiron as she is also someone who is stern yet reveal the things that Chiron needs to do to be a good person in life. Naomie Harris is brilliant as Chiron’s mother Paula as a nurse whose addiction to crack leads to neglect and abuse on Chiron as she is also someone that is desperate and full of hate while becoming remorseful in the film’s third act. Mahershala Ali is amazing as Juan as a Cuban-born drug dealer who becomes a father-figure to Chiron as he also becomes troubled by Paula’s addiction while he also deals with some of the issues he’s created for the people around him.
In the role of Chiron’s friend Kevin Jones, the trio of Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and Andre Holland are incredible in their respective roles as the child, teenage, and adult versions of the character with Piner as the young Kevin trying to help Little be tough and cool. Jerome provides a charisma and coolness to the teenage Kevin as someone trying to be accepted in school but also make a discovery of his own in his friendship with Chiron. Holland’s performance is more reserved as a man trying to live a good life where he is somewhat content with where he’s going while being concerned about who Chiron has become.
In the roles of Chiron, the performances of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes are phenomenal in their portrayals of this young boy who would become a man with Hibbert displaying a troubled innocence as the young Chiron in Little as he doesn’t say much but manages to convey so much through his face. Sanders’ performance as the teenage Chiron has elements of restrained but also a melancholia as someone struggling with his identity and being bullied where this emergence of rage would come out. Rhodes’ performance as the adult Chiron known as Black is low-key in its emotions as someone who is trying not to think about the past but also cope with his experiences in life as well as deal with his own loneliness and regrets in his life.
Moonlight is a tremendous film from Barry Jenkins. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, an entrancing music score and soundtrack, realistic settings, and a touching coming-of-age story told in three different periods in time. It’s a film that explores a man trying to come to terms with his identity as well as the world around him as a boy, teenager, and a man as it’s told in a rich and intoxicating style. In the end, Moonlight is an outstanding film from Barry Jenkins.
Barry Jenkins Films: (Medicine for Melancholy) – If Beale Street Could Talk
© thevoid99 2018
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This is so spectacular in so many ways and I discover new and astonishing things on every rewatch. His newest is just as brilliant, in new and bigger ways.
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