Moonlight is a film rammed with fantastic performances. Filled with rich characterisation and powerful moments. it charts three different periods in the life of Chiron, a young, gay black man from inner-city Miami. Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ film works because of the acting, with each performance hitting a certain amount of depth and pathos.
Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali might be the only actors in Moonlight to be Oscar nommed, but the good acting doesn’t stop with them. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes play Chiron throughout the film and they all bring different notes to their role, building a fully rounded and complex character. Andre Holland also does incredible work as the grown-up version of Kevin, Chiron’s closest friend. In a film of great performances he could be the best. Having said that, Ali might have the best character, a drug-dealer who takes young Chiron under his wing. You’ve seen a lot of drug dealers in movies, but never one with a heart like this. Every actor in this film gets to deliver something that makes them stand out, without ever coming across as scene stealing. There’s no grandstanding, they just do their job in an exceptional way.
The story of Moonlight might be a little choppy due to the fragmented nature of the narrative, but each little vignette works as its own piece. Jenkins has built an intriguing film, one which looks at what it’s like to be gay in a masculine, gang-land world. In lesser hands this could have been saccharine but Jenkins keeps it feeling very real and he doesn’t pull on the heartstrings or add any sort of agenda. This is Chiron’s story and we see it from child to adult without any filter. Jenkins could have told a life story, or focused on one part of Chiron’s tale but he’s able to tell an engaging narrative by focusing on specific points.
Rightly lauded for featuring great acting, Moonlight is a focused and well intentioned piece. It’s a small film that works because it’s so unique. We’ve seen dozens of films about gangs and people coping with their sexuality (although not together) but never one as layered as this. It works because Barry Jenkins tells a story – one story – without trying to over-complicate the narrative or characters. This could easily have come across like a soapy TV movie but it feels intimate and cinematic. Moonlight ultimately rings true because of the wonderful performances – and they’re the perfect reason to see it.