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Moonlight Movie Review

Moonlight: Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Moonlight is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + Digital HD edition.

Moonlight (2016) movie poster Moonlight

Theatrical Release: October 21, 2016 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Barry Jenkins / Writers: Barry Jenkins (screenplay); Tarell McCraney (story)

Cast: Trevante Rhodes (Chiron/Black), André Holland (Kevin), Janelle Monáe (Teresa), Ashton Sanders (Teenage Chiron), Jharrel Jerome (Teenage Kevin), Alex R. Hibbert (Chiron/Little), Naomie Harris (Paula), Mahershala Ali (Juan)

 

Moonlight, the sophomore feature film of writer-director Barry Jenkins,
charts in three parts the journey from boy to man of an African-American in the southern United States.

We first meet Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) as a quiet, frightened young Miami boy who takes shelter by breaking into an unoccupied room of an abandoned crack hotel. He is found by Juan (Mahershala Ali, magnetic in limited screentime), a drug dealer with some authority who brings the boy home to his girlfriend and feeds him, without getting hardly a word out of him. Eventually, Juan, who is reluctant to give out his own name, gets an address and returns the boy to his mother Paula (Naomie Harris), who is ungrateful and later we learn a client of Juan's, who has created a hellish home environment from which Chiron habitually escapes.

Drug dealer and surrogate father Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaches young Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a.k.a. Little, how to swim.

Chiron (pronounced "Shy-ron"), whose juvenile nickname is Little, is bullied by his peers and from a young age exhibits some homosexual tendencies. Both those tendencies and the bullying intensify in high school, where Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) stars a friendship that might be more with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), a classmate who is sexually active with his girlfriend. Feelings for one another develop and confuse until a fight situation escalates and Chiron gets arrested.

The third and final stretch of the film seems Chiron grown up (now Trevante Rhodes). Going by the name "Black", Chiron has evolved into a street dealer much like his childhood surrogate father Juan. Rocking grilled teeth and a classic car, the adult Chiron visits his mother, who is still wrestling with substance addiction, and also reconnects with Kevin (André Holland), who is now a diner chef.

Ashton Sanders plays the teenaged Chiron. Trevante Rhodes plays the grown-up Chiron, a street dealer nicknamed "Black."

Moonlight is raw and original.
Its narrow vision and frank depictions distinguish it from other films, which is sure to win it favor from critics. Despite the near-universal acclaim this should draw, it does seem like a film too small and intimate for Oscar consideration, outside of perhaps a secondary category, like Ali for Supporting Actor. But it's a confident film that establishes Jenkins and story writer Tarell McCraney as skilled, unconventional storytellers with unique rhythms and flair.

From complete newcomers to seasoned actors you might recognize from supporting roles in blockbuster franchises, the cast of Moonlight is entirely on point. They sell the realism, giving it an indie credibility you'd never find in a major studio film that opens wide.

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Reviewed November 4, 2016.



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