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Film Review: Moonlight @ London Film Festival 2016

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★★★★

Naomie Harris, House of Cards’ Mahershala Ali, and a seemingly never-ending chain of newcomers really shine in this character-driven drama about the importance of identity. 

Set against the unruly backdrop of Miami’s seedy underbelly, a world built on drug dealing, petty crime and machoism, Moonlight charts the inner struggles of the confused and abused street kid Chiron. 

Mapped out in three chapters, each concerned with a different stage in Chiron’s life, from childhood, through to adolescence and eventually, adulthood, the film tackles not only the very real dangers of life on the streets, but also the complications that come with fully understanding your own sexuality. 

It’s a hefty cocktail of racial, social and LGBT-driven issues, but one which newbie director Barry Jenkins serves with a tremendous amount of artistic grace, giving each ample time to develop organically, whilst still providing his actors with the much-needed space to fully realise this dark and often destitute world they’re bringing to life. 

In fact, despite Chiron himself being portrayed by not one but three separate actors over the course of the film, not once does he feel any less real than you or I. The key is in the specifics here, right down to his very base mannerisms and dislike of basic speech; it’s a tremendously detailed role, played out in a tremendously detailed manner, by three truly terrific actors. 

To praise one more than any other would both be a disservice to them all, and just generally false: it’s the image of Chiron which they build together, over the course of the three chapters, which really makes Moonlight the affecting and deeply troubling drama that it is overall. 

Both Harris and Ali deserve nods for their supporting work here too though. Chestnut in particular, a far-cry from the far more restrained and tightly-bound roles he’s famous for, is an absolute joy to watch, providing plenty of laughs and just the right amount of tenderness during his short time on screen. 

There are issues in the long run: chapters often end with no real sense of closure, narrative leaps can sometimes feel a tad too convenient, and certain sequences (the third act in particular) seem to play out slower than a snail on ketamine, but whilst these may not exactly do Moonlight any favours in making it an ‘entertaining’ watch, they never actually stop it from packing the emotional punch its set-up promises. 

An Oscar dark horse maybe, but even if Jenkins and co. don’t quite make it that far, they can rest safe in the knowledge that they’ve made a remarkably touching and important film. 

Moonlight is screening as part of the 60th BFI London Film Festival this October. Further details including ticket info can be found here

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