REVIEW: Moonlight @ Tyneside Cinema

Posted on March 1st 2017 by Whats on Northeast

Words: Tom Cooney for Cuckoo Review

I’ve never known a film to be needed by the world at as much as we need this film right now. Writer and director Barry Jenkins tackles what it’s like to be a homosexual black man living in, not just the USA in a general sense, but the often mercilessly harsh American neighbourhoods that seem to have slipped through the cracks. The film is split into three distinct acts; we follow Chiron from his childhood, through his experiences as a young man, up to him living as an adult. Jenkins gives us moments from these periods, those significant instances that mould our protagonist into the incredibly complex character that we see in the film’s latter stages. It is an exceptionally brave film: unflinching and unconventional, yet, not obnoxiously so. Moonlight is a modern masterpiece.

Due to the nature of this three-act structure, Chiron is played by three different actors. This can often be a stumbling block for similar life-spanning films, especially when the casting throws together actors who share no similar features or mannerisms. However, Moonlight defies these worries. 12-year-old Alex Hibbert gives one of the most nuanced child performances that I have ever seen in film, with Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes following in a way that undeniably captures the essence of the actor before him, while also adding their own subtleties to the role.

Beyond Chiron’s three-dimensional portrayal is a whole cast of flawless artists. Particularly Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris – both Oscar-nominated for their contributions to this film – who give the best performances of their careers. Despite this, I couldn’t confidently say that the two won’t top this in years to come. It’ll be tough, but if there’s one thing that Moonlight demonstrates about its actors, it’s that they have the ability to become absolute stars.

Beyond the acting, Moonlight is a visually stunning film. There are no shots here that haven’t been meticulously crafted to tell the audience something that’s not explicitly found in the dialogue. In addition to their cinematic beauty, the unique use of space and colour holds profound symbolic weight; so much so, I can see the film being studied and analysed for years to come.

At the time of writing this, there are still a few days to go until the 2017 Academy Awards – and it would be impossible to discuss this film without touching on its current Oscar-buzz. There really is a whole host of extraordinary films in the running for Best Picture this year, but I truly believe that it should be Moonlight that takes home the coveted trophy. To create a film placing a protagonist like Chiron in the spotlight is almost unheard of in mainstream American film, but why should it be? 2016 was – in many ways – a tough year for BAME and LGBTQ communities, so the recognition of Moonlight by the academy would go some way in moving towards a free, loving, and more understanding future in cinema.

This review originally appeared on Cuckoo Review, a site dedicating to developing the skills of young writers in partnership with venues across the North East. For more reviews from young writers, visit the Cuckoo Review website.

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