There is a moment towards the end of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight that, for all its artistic and creative merits, reminds us why we love cinema and why we continuously invest our time and money (however inflated the latter gets) to transport ourselves to another place and time. This wonderful film is quite simply that and it will gain many more fans over the next few months following its debut at the London Film Festival.
Set in and around Miami over a three decade period, this is the story of Little/Chiron as he struggles with a drug-infused mother (Naomie Harris) and the torments of the local kids. He is lost in his surroundings, both personal and physical, and after sprinting from said bullies he seeks refuge in a disused house, which doubles as a drug-sellers’ habitat. Here he happens upon local seller (a superb Mahershala Ali) who takes him under his wing and a gives him a shoulder to cry on. We then follow Little through his teenage years and later in his adult years as he struggles with not only his demons and his growing need for acceptance and by extension companionship.
With a plethora of astounding performances not least from the trio of actors portraying Little through his journey, Moonlight is elevated even further into not just Oscar contention but as an important and significant film. As the youngest of the trio, Alex Hibbert is muted and soft while still pulling you into his performance with both deftness and power while Sanders, more volatile in the teenage years, is an earnest and enigmatic presence.
Finally, Trevante Rhodes as the oldest and final incarnation is bigger in size and stature but still maintains the quiet, delicate nature that still lurks beneath. Indeed he and Andre Holland (playing Kevin, a character that has a big pull on Little’s life) deliver the film’s stand-up sequence that is one of most delicate and undemanding moments of the film but it’s most forceful and staggering.
The true wonder is the conglomeration of those performances and how the three actors manage to intertwine so seamlessly. Replicating each other’s mannerisms and tics, the three actors weave the character so miraculously and with such extraordinary assurance that the film’s already rich tapestry of narratives becomes a staggering and eloquent whole.
The monochrome, perpetual visuals add a hazy, dreamlike quality that encompasses the story and allows us as an audience to be pulled into the splendour of it all visceral glory. Jenkins and co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney have created a powerful, poignant story of acceptance, place and fear as “Little” continues on his journey as many obstacles surface. Indeed its greatest success is in its quiet intimacy that is beyond anything you will see this year such is the potency of both dialogue and cinematography while it’s equally astounding score flows gently but purposefully alongside.
In an award seasons that looks like it could be one of the most unpredictable for many years, it is almost certain that Moonlight will have a big say in where the golden statues end up. A startling, arresting and heartbreaking film that is one of the best of recent years and showcases Jenkins, McCraney and it’s cast as true talents to watch. Spellbinding cinema.