“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” – Oscar Wilde
Moonlight is a film that stands head and shoulders above the year’s other dramatic films. Working from an unproduced play penned by Tarell Alvin McRaney, writer/director Barry Jenkins has come up with an astonishing film. It is told in three part, each representing one phase of the life of the main character, “Chiron.”
First comes i. Little which is the story of a very young Chiron (Alex Hibbert) who we see running away from some bullies into an abandoned building frequented by drug-users. “Juan” (Mahershala Ali) is a local drug dealer who sees the chase. For some reason he decides to go in search of the youngster. He finds Little who refuses to speak. Juan takes him to his own home where his girlfriend “Teresa” (Janelle Monae) eventually gets him to tell them his name. He spends the night there and in the morning Juan takes him home to his mother, “Paula” (Naomie Harris).
“Kevin” (Jaden Piner) is Little’s only friend. Juan takes an interest in Little and tries to spend more time with him. He has a connection to Paula as well. It is something that binds them together.
Then comes ii. Chiron which is the story of the teen Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is coming to grips with his sexuality and continuing to be bullied by some of his schoolmates. Juan has died but Chiron can still count on Teresa, which is a good thing Paula’s drug use has worsened and she is neglecting Chiron as a result. Teresa’s home is a safe place for him to go when Paula is “otherwise engaged” in her apartment. Chrion is still close with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) but an incident with the worst of those bullying Chiron, “Terrel” (Patrick Decile) changes Chiron’s life forever.
In iii. Black, the name the adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has chosen to go by is a completely different person. He now lives in Atlanta, far from the Liberty City area of Miami where he was raised and where the first two segments took place. His situation is similar to that of Juan now, where he is the drug dealer who oversees the sellers on the block. He will encounter both Paula and Kevin (Andre Holland) again.
The incredible authenticity of the locale and the characters stems from the fact that both Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McRaney grew up in Liberty City. This was further enhanced by the tremendous work in casting the actors who portrayed Chiron and Kevin at all three stages of their lives. To keep one actor from trying to match up their performance with another playing the same character, they weren’t allowed to meet until after production.
Add to this the work of Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, who earned every accolade bestowed on them thus far, and those still to come. Superlatives to properly describe their performances are simply inadequate. Same for this film. Do not miss Moonlight.