Given the somewhat hackneyed premise, I found it hard to believe that Barry Jenkins’ multi-Oscar-winning “Moonlight” could be as special as it has been painted. The story of a young African-American man growing to an uneasy maturity amidst drugs and crime in the ghetto has oft been told, although the fact that this hero is gay was a notable first, and the idea of the narrative unfolding in three distinct chapters, with different actors assuming the central role of Chiron also intrigued.
My doubts were quickly assuaged – “Moonlight” is a beautiful piece of work. It’s largely down to James Laxton’s cinematography which cleverly reflects the moods of the characters – fear, paranoia, druggy befuddlement and, most significantly, isolation. The music also plays a huge role, Nicholas’ Britell’s dreamily minimalistic orchestral score alternating with the more typical rap and vintage r&b tunes. The screenplay – by Jenkins and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney – is a masterpiece of subtlety; and the performances are excellent – Mahershala Ali particularly powerful as a conflicted, paternalistic drug-dealer; not to mention Naomie Harris’s beautiful turn (unbelievably shot in only a few days) as the mother whose love for Chiron is profoundly compromised by her substance addiction.
Heartening, inspirational and unexpectedly optimistic, “Moonlight” is fully deserving of all the acclaim it has received.