Moonlight: Review


In this year’s Oscar race, Moonlight has definitely been the David in its Goliath battle against La La Land. At last night’s ceremony, against all the odds, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play (In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue) managed to take home the coveted Best Picture award – even if it appeared, momentarily, to have been beaten by its biggest competition. Controversy aside, the big question now turns to whether or not its win is deserved, and whilst there’s no questioning the importance and power of this story, I have to say that the simple answer would be no.

In many ways, my feelings toward Moonlight are exactly the same as the ones I had for another of the night’s winners – Denzel Washington’s Fences. Both are fine films, but their theatrical origins are somewhat of a disadvantage on the whole. Here, the coming-of-age story of an African-American man coming to terms with his sexuality is far more accomplished than Washington’s effort; breaking down boundaries and pushing for a representation that is truly unique in cinema.

It certainly had the edge when it comes to its production as well, boasting tremendous, neon-like cinematography from James Laxton and a particularly memorable score from Nicholas Britell that serves to enhance the drama. These two elements, however, pale in comparison to the performances which, across the board, are some of the finest to have been capture on-screen in quite some time.

The key to the film’s success, the thing that would ultimately make or break it, is the casting of the central character, Chiron, at three different stages of his life – boyhood, teens and manhood neatly form a distinctive three-act structure that works particularly well. Whether it’s Alex Hibbert’s quiet, painfully shy turn as the youngest Chiron; the awkward and gangly Ashton Sanders as Chiron in his teens; or the intensely introverted and beautiful touch from Trevante Rhodes’ performance as Chrion at his eldest; each actor is a wonder to watch, made all the more so due to the fact that you absolutely believe that these three separate people are one and the same.

Supporting the three actors are Mahershala Ali, the rightful winner of last night’s best supporting actor award, and a top form Naomie Harris who sadly lost out in her category. Combined, the ensemble are undoubtedly the best thing about Moonlight, and provide audiences with what is a masterclass in performance.

So, with all of the above in mind, why is it undeserving of the best picture statue? Well, for all of the great individual elements that the film has, it simply failed to engage me in quite the same way as others in the category did. As mentioned previously, the story is impactful and important, but Barry Jenkins’ screenplay really lets it down. And even though his writing is based on personal experiences, the screenplay feels too reserved, too removed, to make any kind of connection with.

One scene aside, in which and older Chiron and his mother comes to terms with their difficult relationship, I didn’t feel nearly as moved as I had hoped I would. It’s a shame, because all the other elements work so well, but no matter how much I may appreciate its performances or production, Moonlight fails to live up to its hype. There’s no denying it needs to be seen, but this is one best picture winner that I think will be forgotten about in years to come.

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