Review: Moonlight

By Quentin Basnaw

Whenever we hear something hyped up, most of us generally defer to our friend’s opinions on said hype before we decide to “join the hype train.” Hype can either kill something or, in the rare instance, have the said thing live up to the hype and leave everyone speechless. Moonlight is a film that has been beyond hyped up. With a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a number 3 ranking on Metacritic, and a plethora of film critics and audience members alike calling this film a “masterpiece,” I took on the arduous task of reviewing this film. The film, in one word, is good. I unfortunately went into the movie expecting a masterpiece. Never do that; you’ll be disappointed. So, with all of that said, let’s talk about Moonlight.

Moonlight is directed by Barry Jenkins and features a stellar cast, including Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Luke Cage), Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean, 28 Days Later) and Ashton Sanders (The Retrieval). The story is one of a young man named Chiron (pronounced Shy-rone) who deals with an impoverished, hostile environment, a drug addicted mother, and his emotions towards manipulative people. The movie follows the life of Chiron as a child, then as a teenager, and finally as an adult, and how his upbringing shapes him as a character. First off, let’s start with the one thing everyone has been getting right about this film: the acting. The actors are all incredible; nobody “phoned it in.” They all committed 200% to their roles. Anytime Mahershala Ali was on-screen, I wanted more. He has made a name for himself in recent years, slowly becoming the new Idris Elba (in terms of appearing in every movie, if you catch my drift), and I’m totally ok with it. He is so talented, and so willing to immerse himself in a role. He plays Juan, a drug dealer. I can’t really say much else without going into spoilers. Naomie Harris plays a character that, unfortunately, many people encounter in real life. She has so much dysfunction happening around her that it’s pitiful to watch, yet it makes you gut wrenchingly angry at the same time. The actors that portray Chiron as a child and then as a teenager deserve more work. They realistically portray a young boy who is struggling with every aspect of his life, and that is a feat most adult actors cannot pull off with such realism and passion.

In terms of the story, the plot of the film is standard. That’s not a bad thing; it is just the truth. It’s all about the execution of a plot anyways. What sells the movie is the acting and the carefully crafted cinematography. At times, the film is gorgeous. However, I am not boarding the hype train that states “every shot in this movie is masterful and dripping with exquisite goodness delivered by God himself on a caramel apple of chocolate. . .” you get the idea. There is a shot early in the movie that  rotates around the actors, which is fine in theory, but the camera feels like it is moving at one hundred miles per hour. It’s hard to focus on what’s going on when the cameraman feels like doing his morning run while he’s trying to film the movie. There are also a few more shots that I feel need to be more in focus. That’s just me though. The cinematography is definitely at an expert level and handled with care; I just didn’t find it to be completely engrossing or “masterful.”

I’m finding it hard to review this movie. It honestly is a good movie; it’s just that everyone has lauded it to the point of disavowing any negativity that might encroach upon the film. I feel everyone doing this needs to step back a couple notches with the praise. For me, the first act is near perfection. There is one sequence where Chiron learns to swim, and it’s beautiful. I was immersed in that specific scene. I was also captivated, for the most part, by the events told in the second act. The third act, however, is where the movie lost me. I understand what they were going for, in terms of filming, story, all the works, but I personally think the third act did not do justice to the great movie that was preceding it.

In the end, Moonlight is worth seeing. In fact, I want you to see it. Go in with an open mind, because that is the best way to see it. I went in thinking, “Well, it’s been getting nothing but praise,” and I should’ve went in with tempered expectations. I feel there is an unspoken mentality that is saying “you cannot bash this movie.” I did not divulge the reasons why this kind of mentality surrounds the movie, because I want you to see it at some point, and not have any preconceptions about the film besides this: it has wonderful acting, and examines how people act in a mature way. I recommend it, but with this warning: never get on the hype train. It has no breaks, and almost always inevitably crashes. Forget this review even; just take away that “Moonlight is something I should watch sometime. Don’t know why, but I’ll watch it!” so you will not have mammoth expectations for the movie. Moonlight is currently in limited release, so it may be harder to get to a theatre playing it. Again, I definitely recommend you see it at some point, but ultimately, I leave the decision to you.

Rating: 4/5