HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:80
Coming of age stories are some of the most potent and poignant stories in all of film making. They’re about growing up and asking the eternal question of “who am I?” amidst a world that makes that ever so difficult. “Moonlight” was a film that I initially was going to pass on due to the subject matter and being swamped with reviews this time of year, but after watching the insane critical response I had to at LEAST see what all the hubbub was. Based off of an unproduced play titled “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, it tells the tale of a young boy named Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes depending on which stage of life he’s in) growing up on the wrong side of the tracks with the nagging doubt that he’s “different” in some way. With a raging 98%-99% critical rating, it was bound to be put up for the Oscars this year, and actually beat out quite a few other fantastic films to gain “Best Picture” for 2016 (something which I don’t agree with though I do recognize the excellent structure of “Moonlight).
Chiron (nicknamed “Little” for his stature) is a young black kid in the poorer side of Miami, Florida. Quiet and picked on the by the other boys in school, he gets into trouble one day and hides out in a squalid building until he’s noticed by a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes pity on the kid and gives him a hand. Juan takes the kid back to his mother (Naomie Harris, who is completely unrecognizable), only to be instantly shunned as she recognizes WHO the older man is in the neighborhood. This seems like your typical motherly response until it’s revealed that Chiron’s mother recognizes Juan because she’s been a customer of his for quite some time (or at least a customer of his street dealers). Realizing that the little kid doesn’t have anyone else to look up to with a druggie mother and an absent father, the drug dealer reluctantly lets the kid hang around in an effort to imbue some sense of parental control in his life. Especially while Chiron is being bullied by the other kids, with sneering and snide comments about his feminine sexual “bent” (if you get my drift).
The second act of the movie jumps ahead nearly a decade with Chiron in high school and his only friend being childhood buddy Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Kevin is a bit of a player and wannabe thug, while Chiron is still the quiet and reserved boy he always was. Continually picked on for his perceived sexual preference, the young man struggles to find his place in the world. Desperate to fit in, he longs for some sort of normalcy or acceptance in this world, only to never see that fulfilled. Even Kevin turns on him after the older punks dare him to give Chiron a beat down in some messed up high school game.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92201[/img]Once again, the film flashes forward about a decade, and Chiron (now nicknamed “Black”) is emulating the only man who was ever a positive role model towards him. He’s out on the street playing the part of a jacked-up thug with gold plated teeth and pushing drugs through his street hustlers. He’s big, he’s ripped, but he’s hiding his latent sexuality and nature deep inside of him still. No matter how much he plays the thug and acts the part, he knows he’s different. A difference that finally comes to the surface in a bittersweet reunion with Kevin, the only one who truly understood him.
When I said that “Moonlight” was the highest critically rated film of the year, I wasn’t kidding. It’s hovering at about 98-99 percent at about EVERY major grading site out there, although the audience response seems to rate it a bit lower (in the low to mid 80% area) which is usually indicative of a more artsy film that not all audiences resonate with. Sadly, I really WANTED to like the movie (especially with the near unanimous critical responses) but I have to agree that 80% sounds about right for the rating. “Moonlight” is well crafted and extremely well done film on its technical merits, but the resonation was just not there for me. I suppose it could be due to the fact that the queer romance angle of the film didn’t completely set right (my religious bents are well known and that does play a part in my enjoyment of films), or it could be due to the fact that the third act just seemed to wander and never rise to an emotionally engaging finale. The first two acts of the movie are simply mesmerizing, and had me truly thinking that this WOULD be a great movie, only to watch the third act slowly fizzle in its direction and intensity.
Much like many coming of age stories, “Moonlight” is more about the journey of the character rather than any specifically designed overarching plotline, and for those familiar with the genre it will be like old hat. While I didn’t exactly jive with the emotional appeal of the movie, I have to say that the performances were AMAZING. Each of the three iterations of Chiron did a phenomenal job at creating a singular character that just lived and breathed humanity. Naomie Harris is literally unrecognizable as Chiron’s deadbeat mother, having very little screen time but making her few minutes of actual presence an impact that stays with you throughout the film. Each of those characters weave their own personal pain and triumphs into the film and leaves the audience feeling truly connected to them in some way. Director Barry Jenkins gives equal gave to each character, and displays their lives exactly as it is. Differing shades of grey without every justifying their actions or excusing them, but instead lending empathy and compassion to their different plights. Even though Juan, Chiron and his mother are all involved in the drug trade in some way shape or form, there is this uncritical presentation of their lives that allows you to feel for them, without feeling like Jenkins was trying to push some social agenda and justify their actions. Even the homosexual theme about Chiron discovering himself is not the main focus of the movie. It’s really a movie about a boy asking the question “who am I”? and searching until he finds the answer, no matter what it is.
Rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92209[/img]Shot using the Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras, “Moonlight” provides a very competent and stable looking image on Blu-ray. There is a sharpness and clarity to the film that is second to none for most of the shots, and colors remain strongly saturated with hints of blue and gold flecked throughout. The only downside to the image is Jenkins propensity for using some odd focus tricks (he has a tendency of focusing in on one or two objects in the foreground while the background looks soft and almost blurry) as well as utilizing hand held cameras that shake and wobble at some inopportune times. Contrast is well done, if a little boosted, and the black levels are fantastic (with only minor banding here and there). It’s a technically sound digital image and one that holds up really well despite the odd focus issues and handheld cams here and there. The actual cinematography is nothing short of marvelous in the way it focuses in and highlights emotions and expressions on people’s faces. Effectively becoming one of the better storytelling devices in the film.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92217[/img]“Moonlight’s” 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix is nothing short of amazing, with a highly energetic and nuanced track that really is the best part of the disc. For such a dialog centric film there is a lot of surround activity in the film, with the soft sounds of the ocean trailing in from the Miami beaches, and the loud background of the beachside birds making some raucous noises. The movie sometimes kicks it up a notch with the powerful LFE that usually makes itself known from the hip hop beats Chiron is blasting, or the deadening thud of a fist slamming into his chin. Soft cues allow for incredibly nuanced sounds to shift across the soundstage and make for an incredibly encompassing experience.
• Audio Commentary with Director Barry Jenkins
• "Ensemble of Emotion: The Making of Moonlight"
• "Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight"
• "Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami"
I personally felt that “Moonlight” was a well-done film that has some incredible acting, but sadly think it was mistakenly given Best Picture at the Oscars last night. It has a LOT going for it, but there several much more deserving films out there that got shafted for that role. Some people will get more of the film than I did due to being closer to the source theme material than I am, while others may find the subject matter not to their tastes, especially when dealing with a gay child finding out who he is. Still, the film is a technical work of art and features some of the best performances of the year from several up and coming actors (not to mention Naomie Harris, which I have to mention again as the standout performance of the movie). Due to the rather divisive subject matter I have a hard time giving this a 100% “go see it” recommendation, I can’t have people ignore a well-done movie either. So, I will end with this. Based on what I’ve said so far and your opinion on the nature of the subject matter, if you’re interested and feel that’s in your wheelhouse, definitely go see it. Incredibly well done movie. If not, then I’d say give it a rental before going out and plopping down your money.
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Written by: Barry Jenkins, Tarcell Alvin McCraney
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 111 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 28th, 2017
Buy Moonlight On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Check my "Overall" Paragraph
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