Moonlight can be described as being to film what The Wire is to television. No, not due to sharing subject matter, but for delivering multi-faceted, compelling, and most important of all honest depictions of the characters and their lives. And also like that show, it is one of the greatest that its medium has ever had to offer.
Protagonist Chiron is depicted at three points: child (Alex Hibbert), teenager (Ashton Sanders), and adult (Trevante Rhodes). Shown chronologically, we watch the progression of his life and how it’s impacted by the important people around him. In particular, his drug addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris), guardian angel figure Juan (Mahershala Ali), and peer Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland).
Not knowing any more about it is the best way to go into the viewing. True, this approach can typically be held for any film regardless, but here it is especially applicable. Experiencing the journey of Chiron’s life along with him and feeling as he does in those moments is truly moving.
What I can say though is that it’s amazing what this film pulls off. The supporting characters are memorable, but when they’re missing for stretches, you don’t miss them. Every time the plot feels like it might have landed into a cliche, it goes in an unexpected direction.
The setting of Miami is also given a fresh, and realistic, depiction. This is not the party town other movies and shows might paint it as; the Miami we see is a city same as any other with people who go through the same struggles they would elsewhere. In the lives of these characters, sunshine is not always present, but in the darkness they take whatever chances for happiness that they can get. Essentially what’s there most often isn’t sunlight but, well, moonlight.
Everything else about the film is also on point. The actors (also including Janelle Monáe) are fantastic across the board. Though Ali and Harris are standouts, the three actors tasked with Chiron are extraordinary, each informing the other versions of where he’s been and where he will go. The direction from Barry Jenkins is superb with some very deep and beautiful shot compositions. And the music from Nicholas Britell fits perfectly with what’s on screen. Everything works in unison to make a powerful presentation of a profound picture.
There’s a copious amount of elements here to probe for great meaning, but first it needs to be seen for oneself. Moonlight is not just an instant classic, but an exceptionally seminal work that will undoubtedly inspire many more to greatness. Do not miss it.