Beware of the high praise Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight receives, this is a film that needs breathing room and sober, uninterrupted thought. Jenkins tackles social construct within three developing acts that proves to help and even more so hinder character development. Distinctive chapters titled in the nicknames Chiron has been given (“Little”, “Chiron”, and “Black”), forms the link between identity and self-realization. Set in Miami, Florida, Chiron (played by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) comes to terms with battling his sexuality amongst a crack-head mother and his rough neighborhood.
The classic three act structure allows for much of the attention to be taken off from plot and narrative and faced to the acting performed by the cast of Chiron. Hibbert and Sanders handle the pursuit in the most elegant form, finding that despite Jenkins isolation between the actors during filming, they all had a key sense in body language and consistent gestures. It was Sanders during Chrion’s school years that kept the turning point of the character believable and endearing. Sanders showed a great amount of detail when facing his abusive, drugged mother emphasizing his psychological attributes that made his transition to “Black” that much more confusing.
The story follows the advancements between Chrion and his friend turned lover, Kevin (played by; Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland) Kevin stands wise and grounded against Chiron’s weak demeanor. Their relationship is built around a ‘right place, right time’ structure. Carefully placed scenarios moves the plot forward expecting no one to question it’s validity. Kevin just so happens to be at the beach for a smoke session as Chiron had a grueling escape from his mother’s abusive rhetoric, the same instance that Kevin was conveniently placed outside the school when Chiron was getting handcuffed by police. These conveniences, normally allowed in cinema, screamed against the dark agenda Jenkins was trying to capture. Chiron relied so heavily on Kevin that within the ten years they had not seen each other, Chiron admitted he had not been touched by another man since their night on the beach. This leads to an emotional capture between the two characters where Kevin comforts Chiron sending the message that self-acceptance is the hardest obstacle to overcome.
Addressing key stereotypes amongst many classifications, Jenkins hybrids the gangster hard-shelll with the soft-spoken interior of a man grappling with sexuality. The breakdown of the acts allows the time to jump forward creating many questions and plot holes that would seem not plausible for the Chiron the audience grew to know. The second act shows Chiron against his rough neighborhood, deemed in the form of what seems to be a hardened school bully. A character that was underdeveloped and unbelievable making it hard to find that many, including Kevin, would fall to his requests. Chiron finds his voice in violence, when he hits the bully over-head with a chair, down spiraling him (off-screen) to a drug dealing gangster. Later told in act 3, Chiron admits through dialogue that it was juvenile detention where he learned to become hard. An uncomfortable, format that perhaps Jenkins used to bring another quick element and social thought to the description of the film.
James Laxton, veteran cinematographer for Jenkins, deserves much of the accreditation for the power Moonlight possesses. Laxton’s innovative work with illusions brings a dynamic twist of suspense and exaggeration to simple scenes. He spun us around the introduction scene for Juan (Mahershala Ali) that left us dizzy as him and his employed dealer stood still against a blurred background, emphasizing their role in the streets. He unapologetically brings the audience to the feeling of realism. The film allows us to sympathize with Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) with close up shots and first person point of view as he is being harassed by other kids. Illuminating emotion within the first few minutes. Throughout the film, Laxton participates in using close up shots that give highlight to the actors’ craft, this becomes old as I had waited upon stagnant growth of the characters, that seemed out of reach when the angle became too fixed. Visually stunning, Laxton was sure not to break from the sensation of being present with the characters. Chiron’s swimming lesson felt as fresh as actually being in water while the waves trampled the camera.
Jenkins is met with social heroism that overshadows the film’s technical downfalls. The importance of the film is crucial, appropriate, and significant in a time where many will need the film. However, when a story falls internally it must be met with a critical eye undisputed by social righteousness.