2017 Oscars: ‘MOONLIGHT’ (2016) Movie Review

Published by Shah Shahid on

It took me a while to decide how to structure a Movie Review around a film like ‘Moonlight’. The film itself is less a structured story, and a more personal look into the life an identity of one person. So the only way for me to discuss this movie, is to follow suit and abandon the conventional ‘movie review’ structure, and speak from a personal perspective.

Watch the movie on iTunes. | Listen to the Official Soundtrack on iTunes.


The story of the film is centered around a subject matter that is rarely shown in movies, and considered even less; that of a young Black man struggling with his sexual identity. But the story is told in a very atypical fashion which lends to why the movie is good, but also makes it difficult to put it in a box to compare against other movies.

‘Moonlight’ tracks the life of a young boy named Shiron, in three specific phases from childhood to teenage years and into adulthood. The three significant parts of his life depict his evolution from a shy and meek child, to a totally different man who still struggles with his sense of self and his sexuality. His experiences, the people he meets at different crossroads of his life, and how they shape him and his and outlook, is really what the movie showcases.

‘Moonlight’ has been hailed as one of the year’s best movies of 2016, and is nominated for multiple Oscars at the 89th annual Academy Awards.

Initially, ‘Moonlight’ acts as an incredibly strong performance based film. But upon reflection, it truly comes across as a movie with surprising emotional depth and goes beyond a rare subject matter to become something relatable every step of the way.

The first act of the film focuses on a younger Shiron, and his relationship with a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) that takes him in from the neglect of his drug addicted mother. (Naomie Harris) Chiron’s relationship with Juan is the most impactful of the film, as it shapes his understanding of who he is, and provides a father figure that is missing for most of his life since, and afterwards as well.

Mahershala Ali in ‘Moonlight’

While the absentee father cliche has been done, writer-director Barry Jenkins doesn’t beat a dead horse here. Juan very organically passes on life lessons to Chiron that really set up a cornerstone for who he is and will become. This phase of the film is probably the sweetest and most interesting. Ali has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award for this performance and it is well deserved, despite the brief-ness of the role.

The different ages of Chiron are played by entirely different actors, which creates a challenge to have to become familiar with the same character all over again. But this definitely feels intentional as the character himself is different at the different junctions of his life. The better performances have to be from the Chiron at his teenage years (Ashton Sanders) and into adulthood. (Trevante Rhodes)

Ashton Sanders as teenage Chiron in ‘Moonlight’

Sanders plays the kid with a quiet resilliance that, while showcasing his meek nature, quietly builds up into an explosion by the end that is gradual and incredibly subtle. Sanders’ performance is a great compliment to the young boy the movie introduces us to, while allowing for the bridge to transition into the man we see in the third act.

Physically Rhodes looks nothing like the two actors previously portraying the same character, making it that much more difficult for him play Chiron more through facial expressions and body language. It’s a sharp transformation for Rhodes to go from a very much Juan-like character when we’re introduced to him, and the reverting back into the Chiron that we’ve seen throughout the film.

Every performance in ‘Moonlight‘ can be considered a career best, especially that of Mahershala Ali and Ashton Sanders.

Moonlight‘ is a deeply personal and moving film. The story is impactful and showcases characters that aren’t usually depicted in this manner. The story is able to achieve great strides by making the core conflict that of a universal internal struggle with one’s own identity; and the opposing factions of choice and one’s being.

‘Moonlight’ is nominated for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor In A Supporting Role, Best Actress In A Supporting Role, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Original Score and Best Directing at the 2017 Oscars. 

The 89th Academy Awards will be airing on ABC on February 26th, 2017.

Buy the ‘Moonlight’ DVD from Amazon.

Shah Shahid

Entertainment Writer | Film & TV Critic | Bollywood Blogger | Host of Split Screen Podcast | Proud Geek Girl Dad


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