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January 27, 2022

Movie Review: 'Moonlight' lives up to lofty expectations

To say that “Moonlight” is a perfect film would be incorrect. “Moonlight” is not perfect. Don’t get me wrong, the performances in director Barry Jenkins’ second major feature are all superb, the pacing is as good as it gets and if you want to be a great screenwriter one day you should study and dissect this film, and its characters, frame by frame.

“Moonlight,” which is based off Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” does not come without flaws but I think that’s the purpose of this film. Life is not perfect. It’s not pretty. There are no magical heroes that come and save people from death or addiction. No, “Moonlight,” which has been nominated for best picture by nearly every award show, is a sobering look at life.

More specifically, a look at the life of somebody that is not only trying to survive through a harsh and unforgiving environment but also trying to find themselves in the process. It’s a near-impossible task that shines through in every shot, every subtle show of emotion and every line of dialogue

Jenkins not only puts us in the shoes of the main character, Chiron, for three specific moments of time that shaped who he is and helped him decide his place in life — much like “Boyhood” — but he also takes us deep into the world of Liberty City, an impoverished neighborhood in Miami, Fla. There is nothing lavish about the life that Chiron lives and that is apparent from the very first shot to the last.

Alex R. Hibbert plays Chiron as a child during the first act, Ashton Sanders follows him, depicting Chiron as a teenager going through hell in high school, and Trevante Rhodes caps off the film with a mature but still-lost illustration of our main character.

I compared this film to “Boyhood” because Richard Linklater’s 2014 film was shot over 12 years with the same characters to help show the passing of time. This film has the same exact feel but without the 12-year production. All three actors are familiar and are molded into the same character but also bring something new.

And that’s what allows this movie to shine. In the same way that you and I are no longer the same person that we were at 7 or 15, Chiron grows, shrinks and becomes more reserved from every interaction and conversation he has with his influencers during these three formative vignettes of his life.

Mahershala Ali (“House of Cards,” “Luke Cage”) almost steals the film as Juan, a dope dealer that sees a lot of himself in Chiron during the first third of the movie. But Ali’s character is not just the throw-away version of a drug dealer that feels bad for a kid and wants to play the father figure. He has his own issues and he’s constantly struggling to come to grips with the life that he chose.

Juan is just one of several characters that are not only sublimely performed but written. None of the major cast members are only there to move the plot forward. Naomie Harris (“Specter,” “Collateral Beauty”) is haunting as Chiron’s mother, Paula, and André Holland (“42,” “Selma”) is the definitive version of Chiron’s lone friend Kevin. All of the characters introduced have a purpose and they all shape Chiron for better or worse.

“Moonlight,” at its core, is a character study of how we not only perceive ourselves but that baggage that we carry with us and the barriers that we surround ourselves with. We might not have experienced the same trauma that Chiron did but we have all struggled to accept what we are and who we are. That’s life. It’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be.

9/10

•••

BOX OFFICE REVIEW

1. “Split”: $26,268,685 (Week 2); Universal. Total gross: $77,998,755 million.

2. “A Dog’s Purpose”: $18,386,020 (Week 1); Universal.

3. “Hidden Figures”: $14,000,000 (Week 6); Fox. Total gross: $104,021,649

4. “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”: $13,850,000 (Week 1); Sony/Columbia. 

5. “La La Land”: $12,050,000 (Week 8); Lionsgate. Total gross: $106,509,372 million

•••

COMING SOON

“The Space Between Us” — The first human born on Mars travels to Earth for the first time, experiencing the wonders of the planet through fresh eyes. He embarks on an adventure with a street smart girl to discover how he came to be.

     – Director: Peter Chelsom

     – Cast:  Britt Robertson, Asa Butterfield, Janet Montgomery, Carla Gugino

“Rings” — A young woman finds herself on the receiving end of a terrifying curse that threatens to take her life in seven days.

     – Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez

     – Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, Laura Wiggins, Aimee Teegarden, Johnny Galecki

“I Am Not Your Negro” — Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, “Remember This House.”

     – Director: Raoul Peck

     – Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Dick Cavett

“The Comedian” — A look at the life of an aging insult comic named Jack Burke.

     – Director: Taylor Hackford

     – Cast: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco

•••

“For the Love of Flicks” is a weekly column written by Sports Editor Tony Nunez. For comments or suggestions, email [email protected]

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