Presented in three distinct chapters writer-director Barry Jenkins' Moonlight tells the story of Chiron as he grows from a 9 year old kid to an adult and attempts to navigate and survive on the dangerous streets of 1980's Liberty City. Chiron is bullied constantly while saddled with a crack addicted mother (Naomie Harris) . He is on the run from a group of older kids forced to seek refuge in a crack house at the films opening. In the first chapter entitled Little the mood is set by the films opening track Boris Gordon's Every Nigg.r.Is a Star. played on the radio of Juan (Mahershala Ali) Impala as he arrives at the corner where he runs the local crack business. Juan rescues Little from his hiding place then serves as a father figure over the objections of his paranoid mother. Jaun girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) opens her home to Little whenever his absentee abusive mother becomes too much to handle.
Chapter two finds Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) in high school seemingly with fewer friends than when he was a child. His friend Kevin from childhood is present but he is part of the cool group and the main catalyst for the two key events of his adolescence one tender and the other violent.
The third chapter Black (Trevante Rhodes) features our protagonist bulked up occupying the same role as his mentor Juan in Georgia where he was sent to Juvi. after he finally defended himself in high school. Black controls the main corner, does his rounds to collect money, blasting tunes in his Impala with grills covering his upper and lower teeth.
Jenkins film is a strong portrayal of a repeating cycle that vulnerable youth are destined to fall into if their world consists of absentee, addicted or abusive parents, indifferent teachers at school coupled with the drug culture right outside their doorstep. However Jenkins highlights those fragile touching moments that fight their way to the surface; Juan taking Little to the beach and teaching him how to float or multiple poignant moments in each chapter between Chiron and Kevin.
Of the three actors that play Chiron Ashton Sanders tackles the role in the most pivital time frame. Chiron is an adolescent, he is still being picked on at an age where the attacks can cause real physical injury. He is also trying to come to terms with his developing sexuality as his crack addicted mom brings strange men around the home when she's not accosting him for money. Naomie Harris is superb as his mother Paula. She manages to hold down a job as a nurse while feeding her habit while flipping between being extremely overprotective or overtly indifferent to her son. Mahershala Ali turns in a strong performance to complement his role in this year's Kicks as Chiron's protector and father figure in the first chapter. He sees the effect that his profession has on the community taking on a guardian type role with Chiron to do some good.
Moonlight is an important portrayal of the everyday factors in a marginalized community that have real consequences on the youth and adolescence. Growing up in these areas children face threats at home, school, and in their neighborhoods. In this instance coupled with developing sexual feelings leads to even more isolation and withdrawal as a shield against criticism. It's a powerful, painful and pleasing production that I can definitely recommend.
**** Out of 4.
Moonlight | Barry Jenkins | U.S.A. | 2016 | 110 minutes.
Tags: Liberty City, South Florida , Miami, Bullying, Homosexuality, Isolation, Georgia, Juvenile Prison ,Crack Cocaine, Rehab.