Entertainment Movies Moonlight is a small-budget movie, but it packs a powerful punch
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Moonlight is a small-budget movie, but it packs a powerful punch

What you need to know about Moonlight, the movie leaving critics speechless. Video: The New Daily
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Watch the video above to learn more about Moonlight

Every year there’s a film that gets people talking about challenging but important issues, and this year that movie is Moonlight.

Directed by Barry Jenkins, the film follows a young black man named Chiron across three stages of his life: as a young boy neglected by his drug addict mother, as a teenager struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and as a man who has transformed himself after a difficult life.

Essentially, it explores what PBS accurately described as the “triple crisis” of growing up black, gay and poor in the 1980s.

Alex Hibbert as 'Little', the child version of Chiron.
Alex Hibbert as ‘Little’, the child version of Chiron.

Despite the specific story it tells, Moonlight is universally relatable and is essentially a coming-of-age film and a love story.

But it’s difficult to put Moonlight into any one box, because it doesn’t tell you how to feel, nor does it offer any over-arching moral or lesson.

“Perhaps the most beautiful thing about Moonlight is its open-endedness, its resistance to easy summary or categorisation,” AO Scott of The New York Times wrote, before admitting he was still struggling to “decide what this movie is about”.

Meanwhile,The New Yorkers reviewer Hilton Als accurately summarised: “[Jenkins] respects our intelligence enough to let us just sit still and watch the glorious faces of his characters as they move through time.”

Ashton Sanders plays the teenage version of Chiron.
Ashton Sanders plays the teenage version of Chiron.

Set in Miami, the film is beautifully shot, cast in a dreamlike technicolour and visually stunning despite the occasional brutality it depicts.

The soundtrack also utilises hip hop and R&B music alongside an orchestral score to great effect. In particular, take note of the opening song, which makes an immediate and powerful statement.

The music of Moonlight

While each actor featured in Moonlight is captivating, there are two standout performances in the film, both of which have earned Oscar nominations.

Naomie Harris gives it her all as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother, while Mahershala Ali (you may recognise him from House of Cards and Luke Cage) is spectacular as the drug dealer who becomes Chiron’s unlikely role model.

Naomie Harris is devastating as Chiron's mother.
Naomie Harris is devastating as Chiron’s mother.

Continuing the trend of astounding performances from young actors like Sunny Pawar in this year’s Lion and Jacob Tremblay in 2015’s Room, the children in Moonlight are impressively convincing.

Interestingly, the actors Jenkins chose to represent Chiron across different stages of his life don’t look similar.

“[W]e were trying to find, not even a physical likeness – though there were some skin tone things that we were being mindful of – but really it was about the spiritual essence – I don’t even like saying that word because it’s so high fleeting – of the young men who were playing this person,” Jenkins told The AU Review.

Trevante Rhodes plays 'Black', or Chiron as an adult - hardened by a life of insurmountable challenges.
Trevante Rhodes plays ‘Black’, or Chiron as an adult – hardened by a life of insurmountable challenges.

The film has also been celebrated as an important one for both the LGBTQI community and for people of colour, who were horribly underrepresented at last year’s Academy Awards.

Barry Jenkin’s directing credit was the critically acclaimed 2008 romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy.

The most miraculous thing about Moonlight is that it’s Jenkins’ second-ever feature film, stars a number of unknown actors and had a budget of just $US5 million (low for a Hollywood feature film), yet it’s vying for Best Picture alongside big-budget blockbusters.

Watch the trailer for Moonlight

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