Moonlight isn’t about moonlight or moons. It’s not close to romantic like the title might indicate. This is a dark, gritty, violent, language filled, R-rated film about three stages in the life of a black child, and belies the title’s sense of calm and quiet.
In the first act, Chiron is called Little. He’s about age 6, and we meet him as he’s running from bullies. Little is rescued by a Cuban immigrant drug dealer who feeds him and finally sends him home to his drug-addicted, angry mom. Little only has one friend other than the drug dealer and his girlfriend. It’s Kevin with whom he interacts throughout the movie.
Act two is the boy’s teenage years, when he’s called by his given name. Chiron is still bullied. After a long absence, he reconnects with Kevin, and the friendship takes a deep, different turn.
Act three has Chiron — now called Black — with an unexpected career and another reconnection with Kevin.
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Moonlight is written and directed by Barry Jenkins and is adapted from Tarell Alvin McCreany’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Neither man has done anything you’ve ever heard of, but you’re hearing from a lot of critics that they’ve made the best movie of the year.
Sorry, I don’t share those feelings.
Yes, Moonlight is an incredible movie, and I especially like the superb performances of the three actors playing Chiron. Their strength is their silence. Dialogue isn’t often needed. Pained looks, slumped shoulders and hurried steps speak volumes.
The excellent supporting cast includes Naomi Harris (Spectre) as Chiron’s drug-addled mom, and singer Janelle Monet and Mahershala Ali as the drug dealer and a girlfriend who becomes Chiron’s best friend.
Chiron’s struggles in acts one and two are riveting. Jenkins paints a beautiful — but disturbing — picture of life as a black child and an adolescent struggling with his sexual identity. Irony dots the landscape. A drug dealer whose drugs are destroying the boy’s mom becomes almost a father figure. Emotions and feelings are driven inward as people he loves constantly betray him.
Powerful stuff done with wordless images and events. It is filmmaking at its best. Then you come to underwhelming act three. Normally, I like films with open-ended conclusions that leave you thinking. While the imagery in act three is just as impressive as the other two, when it finally gets to what passes as a conclusion, Moonlight’s light fails to shine.
This is not to say it’s a bad movie. While the subjects involved are not for everyone, I highly recommend the film. It’s one that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. That alone makes it worth the price of a ticket.
▪ Rated R for language, drug use, sex, violence. It’s playing at the Carmike 12.
▪ Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5
Director: Barry Jenkins
Stars: Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monet, Naomi Harris, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland
Mr. Movie rating: 4 1/2 stars
Rated R for language, drug use, sex, violence. It’s playing at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.