A troubled boy growing up in the tough urban projects, a crack addict mother, a kindly father figure who tries to show him the right path… the broad story outline suggests Moonlight is just another gritty urban drama.
However, Barry Jenkins’ superb Golden Globe-winner offers a totally different experience altogether. Unfolding over three haunting chapters, it’s a coming-of-age drama about Ciron – played as a boy by Alex Hibbert, a teenager by Ashton Sanders, and as an adult Travante Rhodes – who not only has to cope with the usual hardships of growing up in a poor African-American neighbourhood in Miami, but is also grappling with his own sexual identity; the fact that the rest of the school have already decided that he is gay makes life doubly difficult.
The largely unknown Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes are great as the conflicted Cirons, Mahershala Ali brings gravitas to the role of the local drug dealer who takes the young Ciron under his wing, while R&B singer Janelle Monáe is a revelation as his sympathetic girlfriend. However, the acting honours go to Naomi Harris for her electrifying turn as the boy’s hopelessly addicted mother, who realises too late the damage she has inflicted on her son.
Despite the gritty subject matter, there’s a dreamy, pastoral feel to Jenkins’ imagery, which helps bring a warmth and tenderness to the otherwise bleak storyline. Melancholic, moving and magical, expect Moonlight to feature prominently at this year’s Oscars.
In cinemas: January 26, 2017
Starring: Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe
Directed by: Barry Jenkins