So the film that was the main talking point of this years’ Oscars – for the small fact that it was the real winner of Best Picture – was finally released in the UK. Moonlight is a cinematic version of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, and follows the childhood, adolescence and adulthood of Chiron, a gay black man, as he grows up in a rough neighbourhood in Miami and comes to terms with his sexuality. Along with Best Picture, Moonlight also won Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali). Due to the worldwide hype surrounding the film I was very interested in seeing it and I can certainly see why it deserved to win Best Picture!
Split into 3 parts we are shown Chiron growing up as Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Black (Trevante Rhodes) – the three key stages of his life. All three actors are brilliant in their roles, each stage involves different aspects and hardships but there are key likenesses and traits amongst the three so it is clear we are following the same person growing up. Alex Hibbert is adorable as Little, the first and youngest stage of Chiron’s life. He struggles to fit in and make friends and actively stays away from home and his drug addicted mother. One day he is picked up by Juan (Mahershala Ali) who, along with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe – recently seen in Hidden Figures) become sort of adopted parents. They show Little love and kindness and become a place to which he can turn when needed.
The second part follows adolescent Chiron, who is still an outcast at school with the exception of one friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). It’s in this stage of his life that Chiron starts to figure out his sexuality and we see him bullied badly for it – even though he has never acted on it. His home life is no better, his mum is now so dependant on drugs that she takes money off her son to feed her habit. Luckily Teresa is still a big part of his life and probably the only good thing in it. Unfortunately after a horrific beating at school, Chiron has had enough and attacks back landing him in juvenile prison.
This leads us to part three, and Black, Chiron’s new nickname and persona. Who we see here is a very different person, where before there was a thin and innocent lad, post-prison Black is muscular, wears grills and gold chains and sells drugs for a living. Ultimately he is hiding his sexuality and because of that he keeps himself separate and alone. His mum is now in rehab and there is a very emotional scene between the two as she acknowledges the pain and hurt she caused him and begs for forgiveness.
Cinematically, Moonlight is fantastic. The camera movements are constant and real so it feels like we are in the story with them. One scene in particular that stands out is when Juan is teaching Little how to swim and the camera is moving with the waves of the sea. There are also moments where the sound is taken out so we are left with just the raw emotions on the characters faces. It’s because of the way the film is made more than anything else that put it as the winner of Best Picture. It’s edgy and unique and a far cry from typical Hollywood films.
The stand out of the film for me though was Naomie Harris who played Chiron’s mum Paula. Oscar nominated for Supporting Actress, Naomie gives an exceptional performance throughout. Having only seen her in prim and proper roles (aka Moneypenny in Spectre), this is a character far removed from that. Paula is a troubled woman who’s addiction clearly spirals out of control. The wildness and desperation is clearly seen in her eyes and Naomie is unrecognisable. She is by far the best in this film, and hopefully it will lead her to lots more gritty roles.
Overall, Moonlight is a very good film and well deserved of its big win. However, the actual story line doesn’t lead to anything. The film was promoted as being about the struggles of being a gay black man, but in reality his sexuality is barely touched upon! The other side of his life, with his mum, is also only loosely touched so really the film just shows a lonely boy growing up with not much detail into his life! It’s still very interesting and brilliantly acted and definitely a must-see, purely for the cinematography if anything else!