With 8 Oscar nominations under its belt, Moonlight has quickly become a real competitor against the likes of La La Land. Offering a look at the complexities of modern day masculinity in situations of high pressure, Moonlight follows the quiet, insular Chiron through three crucial stages of his childhood and adult life.
Our Tom saw Moonlight back at last year’s London Film Festival and was left a little underwhelmed: “It’s a shame that the story, which began feeling like a small-town epic, dies away into something so insubstantial.”
Now that the film has received a full release, it’s time for the wider team to air their views. Were they too left slightly underwhelmed at its finale, or will they be championing it come the Academy Awards in a week’s time?
Rachel – 4/5
Moonlight is more significant for what it epitomises than as a piece of cinema. In an improved year for recognition of African-American talent it’s a subversive counterpart to Hidden Figures and Fences, which lean on established actors and more mainstream qualities.
Nothing in Moonlight is easy; it eschews the homogenised style and convenient happy endings of much Hollywood fare for something closer to human reality. Harris and Ali (wasted in his simplistic Hidden Figures role) are revelatory embodiments of intriguing characters with problematised relationships to morality.
Yet Jenkins’ stylistic verve, particularly overbearing camerawork, can distract from the story’s human core.
Laura – 5/5
It is hard to picture the humble origins of the widely-released and Oscar-nominated Moonlight. Without a doubt, the film owes its rocketing success to the strength of its source material – Tarell Alvin McCraney’s autobiographical stage play had sat at the bottom of a drawer for ten years before Barry Jenkins and film school best mate cinematographer James Laxton picked it up.
Carving out a space for POC and LGBT narratives, Moonlight has already eclipsed its competition. Above everything, this is an inspirational film that, in both its production and its story-matter, demonstrates how tight male friendships can overcome financial setback.
Jack – 5/5
‘Powerful’ is about the most overused buzzword around Oscar season, so it’s no surprise to see it bandied about constantly in discussions of Moonlight. Whilst there’s no denying that Barry Jenkins’ masterful coming of age tale is ‘powerful’, it’s so much more uniquely brilliant than that. Subverting expectations constantly, it’s one of the most effective transitions from stage to screen I’ve ever seen, utterly cinematic despite its origins as a play.
Breathtaking direction mixes with a beautiful score and nuanced and moving performances in a film that keeps your heart and soul in a vice from start to finish.
Phil – 4/5
Comparisons between Moonlight and Boyhood are inevitable, but they’re worth making because both films suffer from the same issue – the supporting cast have a habit of overshadowing the protagonist.
Like Mason Evans, Chiron feels too much like a stoic observer, simply reacting to the world around him. Fortunately, everyone else is performing at the top of their game – Naomie Harris in particular turns what could have been a stock character into the emotional heart of the film.
There’s much in Moonlight that deserves to be recognised – its score, its cinematography, its supporting cast – but it’s not quite a Best Picture winner.
Joseph – 5/5
Walking out of the cinema, I found myself in a contemplative state. Moonlight had pushed me into an intricate web of thoughts and feelings. It’s a day later and I’m still trying to untangle the threads.
Barry Jenkins’ arthouse sensibilities make Chiron’s tale formally peerless. He plunges us into the inner life of this beleaguered figure. The scenes of childhood and adolescence evoke the woozy nature of memory with unparalleled grace, and colour the final act of adulthood with pleasing tones.
Roger Ebert famously called movies an “empathy machine.” Moonlight is the rare film that fully embodies Ebert’s ideals.
Louise – 4/5
Masculinity, especially when sexuality is scrutinised, is an intriguing subject at the best of times. Throw it into an environment with inescapable peer pressure, drug problems, and a lack of opportunities, and you have yourself a film full to the brim with bubbling tension. But this isn’t a film just of struggle; it’s a film of love.
Moonlight offers a beautiful, sensitive look at love in its many forms, be it the love of a helpless mother, or the love of a man for a boy he is desperate to help. It’s not perfect, but this is a film with real heart.
Thom – 5/5
Much will be made of the barriers being broken down by Moonlight’s subject matter and its exploration of sexuality through the eyes of a young black male, but the lasting impression left after taking in its 111 minutes is the intimacy and delicacy in which such statements are handled. Director Barry Jenkins and his wonderful cast, spearheaded by three astonishing turns from the actors inhabiting the skin of Chiron, find beauty in brutality throughout.
Fusing stunning cinematography, immensely moving performances and a script that breathes humanity, Moonlight stands as one of the most affecting films of recent times.
Ahead of next week’s Academy Awards, take a look at our last Team Talk for La La Land.