My expectations were very high going into Moonlight since it ranked #1 on many top 10 lists among critics and casual movie goers. As I have mentioned before, if I am told that a movie is going to be great then my opinion on the movie starts off on the “wrong side of the bed” so to speak. I will look for faults where there might not be any, pick apart something that I don’t see as worthwhile, or wait until the movie goes out of its way to impress me with a big scene . Now that I am putting my opinion out for the world to see, I know that I need to suppress that urge and try to start out with a clean slate.
Moonlight is split into three sections of Chiron’s life between childhood, high school, and adulthood. As a child you get to witness some of his bullying and bond with Juan, who sells drugs and takes an interest in Chiron. The high school segment focuses on his bond with childhood friend Kevin and how they deal with outside forces. The final, adulthood, segment focuses on how everything affected Chiron up to this moment and when he and Kevin finally meet up again after a decade.
I would give this movie 5 “crowns on dashboards” out of 10.
There were several aspects to the movie that were building blocks to amazing moments. Some of the visuals and camera work were fantastic and all of the acting was excellent. The use of silence and dialogue was very striking which would lead to some very intense scenes. Individually, nothing stood out on its own. Everything culminates into a big scene during each section, and they are all heartbreaking. The best example was a scene at Juan’s dinner table when Chiron asked what a faggot was and followed it up with some questions on drug use / selling. The tangible emotions were what the rest of the movie tries to live and breathe on.
Sadly, for every great quality there were several times it was taken too far. There was a great camera shot that circled Juan as he spoke with a corner boy early in the movie, but then later a similar circling shot was using in the high school section. It took it a little too far ending up becoming a dizzying effect. For every great shot in the movie, there were several unnecessarily blurry shots that lingered too long for no reason I could find. For every tense scene that the silence would build up to, there were many more that would become dull moments with no dialogue or forward momentum.
Moonlight might have been more artsy than I can comprehend in a movie, but there were more plot lines opened up than got conclusion. Thinking back on it, only the conflict that ended (positively or negatively) was between Chiron and his mother. This led to the movie feeling unfinished and ultimately boring. Since it would rely heavily on silence of Chiron, the balance of dialogue felt like it was unimportant. Only a few conflicts and story lines got conveyed through action, and Moonlight definitely suffered because of that.
There were moments I wanted to like the movie and pull for it. In the end, Moonlight felt stretched out due to the pacing. At the same time, I felt they should have picked a moment of Chiron’s life and focused. Each section tried to be it’s own movie while tying into the other two, but this caused what could have been the theme of life being cyclical to become boring. I hate to say that since the subject matter was deeper than my review lets on and almost every other review praises the faults I found in Moonlight. If you feel like you need to catch every Oscar contendor in theatres, go ahead … but this is a wait for Netflix or Redbox movie in my opinion.
Sticking with the Oscar note, if I had to recommend a contendor for the Best Picture award then I would say Hell or High Water. The acting, script, momentum, and action was all top notch. The moments that didn’t rely on spoken word carried much more meaning and heft than Moonlight in my opinion. Because it is a similar movie to several already out in the world, it won’t have much of a shot at winning.