Barry Jenkins’ Academy Award winning drama, Moonlight comes to blu-ray and DVD this week. This sublime coming-of-age story, focusing on three stages in one boy’s life, from a child to a teenager, and eventually a man is one of the best films of the year. If you missed it at the cinema, make sure you see it now.
It is a film of rare beauty, with director Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton imbuing every frame with a glorious saturated glow. It is the kind of sumptuous aesthetic you would expect from the European art house, not a film set on the tough and gritty streets of Miami. But then again, this is no ordinary tale of street kids, hoods, and drugs that we’ve seen a hundred times before. Moonlight is something altogether new and wonderful.
Inspired in part by his own youth, and with elements taken from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play (In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue) the film follows Chiron at three defining stages of his life, and played by three different actors. As a small, terrified, and lonely child, known as Little (played by Alex Hibbert) who has to fend for himself against bullies, and his crack addict mother (played by an astonishingly good Naomie Harris). As an awkward and confused teen, now going by his given name Chiron (Ashton Sanders), wrestling with his identity and burgeoning sexuality. And finally as a grown man, now going by the moniker of Black (Trevante Rhodes), a bulked up, gold-grilled, street king.
Each chapter is graced with wonderful supporting roles to Chiron’s story. Beautifully written, nuanced characters who mould and shape Chiron into the man he will become. Naomie Harris as Paula, his crack-addict mother, trapped in the cycle of addiction and emotional abuse, delivers the performance of her career. Perhaps even more impactful is Mahershala Ali’s soulful portrayal of Juan, who first finds Little cowering alone in an abandoned apartment. He takes him under his wing, feeds him, and gives him a place to stay on the nights his mother is too into the pipe to notice. What Little doesn’t know is that Juan, this kind and caring man, is also the dealer who supplies his mother.
Jenkins finds beauty and lyricism where other filmmakers would only see verité grittiness and brutality. Visually stunning, emotionally devastating, and quietly, subliminally powerful, Moonlight is film that will stay with you long after you see it. An ambitious and artistic triumph, blessed with gorgeous images, exquisite sound design, and tremendous performances. A landmark in black cinema. A landmark in LGBT cinema. A landmark in American cinema.