A mastered and perfectly constructed piece of filmmaking.
By Oscar Luckin
Based on the play from Laxton McCraney depicting his own troubled life in Miami, Moonlight is Barry Jenkins’ second feature film. It follows Chiron as he progresses through his life, battling against a drug- addicted mother and questioning his sexuality in a neighbourhood notorious for building testosterone-fuelled men.
The film moves at a slow pace, but James Laxton’s cinematography evokes a deeply intimate story between Chiron and his close friend, Kevin. The long takes allow the acting to be fully absorbed, allowing moments to hold and thoroughly be analysed. The colours alter throughout the film, adding to the transformative identity and coming-of-age fuelled themes that are at the foreground of the film. Shades of blue and tones of yellow fill the screen, representing the bravery that Chiron has. The darkening of blues through his life shows the transformation from his young boy persona, “Little” to “Black”. Laxton and Jenkins want to portray the character evolving through cinematography, and the vacant and empty frames cause a loneliness that show his struggle with his sexuality and the inability of showing his emotions.
The story is told through three age gaps and is a unique way of telling the life of the young insecure boy, turning into a strong but subtly vulnerable man. The casting for Moonlight is almost perfect, with all actors for Chiron and Kevin matching their younger version but they expand on their mannerism and their appearance subtly which is incredible to see in the final diner scene. Supporting cast is also incredibly strong, with Muhershala Ali’s Juan providing a brilliant father figure for young impressionable Chiron. One choice in casting is not particularly explained for Chiron. The transformation from the skinny, defenceless boy to the bulked, muscular drug dealer is slightly jarring and is never explained within the storyline.
Each scene does not drag or feel forced, they are all snippets of Chiron’s life, much like the music. The soundtrack is short and runs in bursts but when included the fast violin strokes fill the scene, adding to the deep emotion that runs through the conflicts with his mother (played by Naomi Harris). Director Barry Jenkins commonly creates subtle stories that reflect wider issues in the world without directly presenting those ideas. This makes the film stand out to other socially challenging films such as Suffragettes (2015), directed by Sarah Gavron, not needing to provide a bigger picture or a world-changing story, just focusing on the characters and representing their emotions through every beat of the film.
Moonlight is a beautiful film. It is perfectly shot to highlight the vibrant Miami environment. It depicts the life of one man, but does not attempt to make a broad statement about homosexuality. With spectacular acting from all the cast and meticulous thought behind every moment, Moonlight is a mastered and perfectly constructed piece of filmmaking.