'Moonlight' review: Compassionate, mesmerizing examination of race, masculinity & sexuality
The indie drama "Moonlight" (opening in additional cities nationwide Nov. 4) is a beautiful, honest and nuanced masterwork. This rich and atmospheric masterpiece not only feels like beautiful literature brought to life, its unflinching and compassionate execution make it one of the very best films of 2016.
In short: This tale told in three chapters follows young, meek Chiron as he struggles to find his place in his rough Miami neighborhood - from childhood to his teen years and his life as a young adult. Stars Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali.
Identity is arguably the strongest and most elemental theme in all storytelling. It forces the protagonist to question who he is, who he wants to be and determines what actions he is willing to take to change or own this identity. And this subtle, dialogue-sparse film is character study of a young black child who questions his own sexuality.
Virtually nothing about this bold film fits into any conventional movie mold - from its subject matter to its textured world to its cliche-defying characters. Chiron's increasingly neglectful mother is far from the usually supportive maternal figure and the smooth talking, confident drug dealer quickly proves himself one of the most nurturing characters of the story.
"Moonlight" forces Chiron to reflect on what it means to be black, what it means to be a man and what it means to question his own sexuality. And he must find these answers with virtually little to no support in his life. Chiron is frequently made to feel like he is less than a man by the other kids at school and even by his own flesh and blood. He is a child of few words who often resists eye contact. Consequently, the man Chiron chooses to become is a direct reflection of the expectations society imposes on him - and a reaction to the merciless bullying he endures from almost all sides.
Every frame of this film is steeped in vulnerability -- a rarity for stories about males in general. Any bravado shown is quickly exposed to be a facade used to survive in the world. There's a soul-baring and raw honesty between the characters that allows them to genuinely connect with each other.
Ultimately this film is a deeply affecting film because the story and its characters ring true. This is a personal story grounded in universal truths. While its overt themes involving race, gender and sexuality are explored, in the end this is the story of an isolated young man trying to determine who he is. "Moonlight" is bookended with one character telling Chiron to "decide for yourself who you're gonna be" and another person outright asking Chiron "Who is you?"
Final verdict: This humane and empathetic examination of loneliness and identity is a powerful work of storytelling.
The indie drama "Moonlight" has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.