Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review of MOONLIGHT: Defined by Drugs

February 2017

The story about a boy Chiron growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami with his drug-addicted mother Paula and his close friend Kevin. His life story was told in three chapters: as a young boy nicknamed Little, as a teenager under his own name Chiron, and as a hardened drug-dealer code-named Black. 

The synopsis did not interest me. The topic felt too familiar. However, because of its buzz as an Oscar contender, I still went ahead to give it a chance. It earned 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. At the 74th Golden Globe Awards, the film won Best Motion Picture – Drama, and that meant something.

Upon watching it with all these big expectations, the film for me was good but I could not really call it spectacular. I do not get all the awards attention it is getting. Maybe it is simply the subject matter that did not really appeal to me at all. The cinematography, editing and musical score were nominated, but these seemed basic and unremarkable to me. 

The actors who played Chiron especially as child and teenager were very raw and realistic. They looked like actual kids from the wrong side of the tracks, and seemed like they were not actors at all. I really liked the child actor Alex Hibbert most of all. He conveyed very well the innocence, the wariness, the vulnerability and the disillusionment of a child in his situation. Ashton Sanders had the tough job of portraying Chiron in his tumultuous adolescence. Trevante Rhodes in the role of adult Chiron had the easiest role of the three.

The character of Chiron's best friend Kevin is very interesting guy as written, mysterious as to his real motivations behind his support. He was also played by three actors in different ages in each of the three parts, all with different challenges, just like the three actors portraying Chiron. These actors were Jaden Piner as Child Kevin, Jharrel Jerome as Teen Kevin and AndrĂ© Holland as Adult Kevin.

Mahershala Ali was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role of Juan, a character from the first chapter of the film only and he is actually buzzed to win. I felt his performance did not really demand much intensity nor depth at first, until he came up with that quietly emotional final scene of his around his dinner table. Ali's kind face, pithy lines and warm chemistry with the Hibbert made him come across convincingly as the ideal father figure to a misguided boy.

Naomie Harris has a much showier role as Chiron's flawed mother Paula whom we descend into the hell of drug addiction. Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her efforts here. She is very good in her portrayal, but for me, there is nothing much she added to this common character of a selfish druggie mother. 

While I was watching the movie, I confess that was not really very impressed with the story the technical aspects. As I was reflecting on the film while writing this review, I am eventually realizing several reasons why people may like this. I see in retrospect that this story of how a man is shaped by the people around him while growing up was actually well-told. However, the topics tackled did not interest me. 6/10.

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