Starring Alex Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Let’s play a game of word association. What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word ‘moonlight’? Calming. Gorgeous. Delicate. Pensive. Haunting. Mysterious.
Well, Moonlight, this year’s Best Picture winner at the Oscars, has all those qualities. And more.
Beneath its luminous façade is a harsh, often times heartbreaking drama about Chiron, a young black man growing up in a poor neighborhood in Miami. His turbulent coming-of-age story spans nearly two decades and is told in three distinct segments, with a different actor portraying him in each stage.
When we first meet Chiron, he’s a shy 10-year-old lad (Alex Hibbert), who spends most of his screen time barely saying a word. Then we see him as an awkwardly scrawny 16-year-old high schooler (Ashton Sanders), and finally, as a beefy grown-up (Trevante Rhodes) who peddles dope.
Think of Moonlight as a cross between John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.
Writer-director Barry Jenkins — who took inspiration from his own upbringing as well as Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue — deftly touches on issues of drug addiction, poverty, bullying and sexual identity, without turning it into a ‘message’ film.
The performances are compelling throughout. House of Cards’ Mahershala Ali cuts a tough yet tender figure as a drug dealer-cum-surrogate father who takes a shine to a tween Chiron, while Skyfall’s Naomie Harris is just as brilliant as Chiron’s junkie mum.
Without a doubt, all eyes will be on the three actors playing Chiron. At one point, you’re almost convinced that they’re actually the same actor playing Chiron through the ages. So consistent, seamless, and — what’s another word usually associated with moonlight? — oh yes, hypnotic. (****)