Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young African-American man growing up in Miami, at three points in his life (from childhood to early adulthood). As a young adolescent who is bullied by his peers, Chiron is played by Alex Hibbert. As an alienated older teen trying to figure out where he belongs, Chiron is played by Ashton Sanders. As a young adult who knows he’s been going in the wrong direction but doesn’t know how to change or express his feelings, Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. All three actors are great, though some of the surrounding cast are even better.
For me, the best performance in the film came from Naomie Harris as Chiron’s unhappy and neglectful mother. Another great performance came from Mahershala Ali, who plays the drug dealer who rescues and befriends the young Chiron. Then there’s André Holland, who plays the adult Kevin, who, as a boy, had been Chiron’s closest friend.
This ultimately sad tale is always fascinating, especially when it touches on a young black man’s struggle with sexual orientation. But what makes Moonlight special is not the overall story, which sometimes moves too slowly, but the magical scenes along the way that dive deeply into the personalities of the characters. These scenes feature their own unique styles of cinematography which imbue these scenes with a powerful sense of atmosphere.
Moonlight is a very well-made, compelling and vital film that I highly recommend, but there was something about its style that prevented me from engaging with Chiron in a way that would have had me join the majority of critics who gave the film four stars. I give Moonlight a solid ***+. My mug is up.