Poignant coming of age story offers a subtle narrative approach. 4 Stars

A coming of age story simplistically told and yet filled with complex emotions which are often observed but not conveyed with words, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight offers a memorable exploration of a character in three distinct stages of his life.

Moonlight (2016)
Released: 18 Nov 2016
Rated: R
Runtime: 111 min
Director: Barry Jenkins
Genre: Drama
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Alex R. Hibbert
Writer(s): Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney (story by)
Plot: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
IMDB rating: 8.1
MetaScore: 99

Disc Information
Studio: Lionsgate
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 51 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraViolet
Case Type: keep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 02/28/2017
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 4/5

A coming of age story simplistically told and yet filled with complex emotions which are often observed but not conveyed with words, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight offers a memorable exploration of a character in three distinct stages of his life. Poignant to the point of heartache and containing some superb performances, Moonlight certainly ranks as one of the year’s premiere works of art.

Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is a nine-year old boy who is the constant source of bullying by neighborhood jerks in a tough Miami project. His one friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) takes an interest in trying to toughen up his pal, but it’s actually drug dealing Juan (Mahershala Ali) who provides Chiron with a male authority figure even though Chiron’s crack-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris) doesn’t approve. As a teen, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is constantly under threat of violence by school tough Terrel (Patrick Decile) but finds solace in his growing friendship with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), a friendship that is cruelly tested and leads to trouble for the seventeen-year old. After serving jail time in Atlanta, Chiron now known as Black (Trevante Rhodes) goes into business for himself but finds himself taken aback with an unexpected phone call from Kevin (André Holland).

Chiron’s sixteen-year journey through a horrific adolescence was first noted in the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and it’s been adapted for the screen by director Barry Jenkins. The three stages of Chiron’s life covered in the play and film don’t go into the everyday depths of the abusive life the character must face on the streets and at home but instead are provided in highlights which help mold Chiron into the character he will ultimately become in the movie’s third act (the first sight of Chiron in this third section is not only astonishing but also chillingly brings his character full circle with his mentor Juan). But certain scenes are unforgettable: Juan’s gentle instructions on swimming to the painfully shy kid, several moments with Juan’s loving girl friend Theresa (Janelle Monáe) who becomes his surrogate mother and her home a safe haven from his real mother’s abuse and neglect, Chiron’s moonlit initiation with sex, and the triumphant retaliation against Terrel which even though it lands him in prison seems warranted and welcome. Director Jenkins takes several opportunities to use a circular camera, most disturbingly when Terrel is surveying his goon squad to choose someone to do his beatdown bidding, and yet Jenkins is confident enough to let faces do the emoting without feeling the necessity for words, and the film’s silences are often as affecting and profound as almost anything else in the movie. Chiron and Kevin’s climactic encounter in Kevin’s diner is fraught with sexual tension and re-discovery, all handled astutely by director Jenkins.

The six actors who play Chiron and Kevin at different ages are all quite wonderful: Alex Hibbert (who gives mostly a silent performance of impressive depth), Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes as Chiron; Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland as Kevin with Rhodes and Holland especially on point as the adult versions of the characters. Mahershala Ali is a strong, oddly noble presence as drug dealer Juan (and how often does one say that about drug dealers depicted in movies?), and Janelle Monáe complements him beautifully as the gentle, understanding Theresa. Naomie Harris has a bravura turn as the crack addict Paula screeching out epithets at her son and eventually owning up to her many mistakes as a mother. Patrick Decile gets down and dirty as the bullying Terrel.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The movie was filmed digitally and is framed here at 2.39:1 with 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Because of the nature of cinematographer James Laxton’s camerawork which goes in and out of focus during quite a few scenes, it’s sometimes hard to get a handle on the transfer’s sharpness. Some of the segments are also slightly tinted for emotional resonance though usually color is true and skin tones real. Contrast has been consistently rendered, and black levels are very good. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix plays with sound in some interesting ways, especially in using Nicholas Britell’s eclectic score (a mix of classical scoring and hip/hop rhythms) either reduced to the center channel or expanded into the full soundstage as necessary. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. Ambient effects are also often subdued and occasionally not noticeably channeled for the full surround effect.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Audio Commentary: writer-director Barry Jenkins speaks with authority and energy about the making of his second feature film with no extended pauses.

Ensemble of Emotion: The Making of Moonlight (21:37, HD): writer-director Barry Jenkins, producers Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and actors Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Mahershala Ali, and Naomie Harris discuss the film’s story, themes, and characters and what being a part of the picture meant to them.

Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight (10:06, HD): composer Nicholas Britell and director Barry Jenkins discuss their collaboration to attain the musical motifs they wanted to enhance the story.

Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami (5:39, HD): writers Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins discuss their upbringing in Miami as influencing the tone and texture of the film being shot there. Also commenting on the Miami locations are producers Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner.

Promo Trailers (HD): 20th Century Woman, Free Fire, American Honey, Swiss Army Man, The Lobster.

Ultraviolet: code sheet enclosed in the case.

Overall: 4/5

A lovely, moving coming-of-age story set amid the rough neighborhoods of Miami, Moonlight doesn’t milk its emotions for their ultimate depths but rather pulls back and lets the viewer read his own thoughts and feelings into the narrative, an unusual and different approach to cinematic storytelling. The Blu-ray offers very good picture and sound quality for one of the year’s best films.

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Matt Hough

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Colin Jacobson

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It won big at the Independent Spirit Awards tonight.
I have a feeling that "Moonlight" and "Manchester" will kinda cancel each other out at the Oscars. Both are similar in a lot of ways - low-key, downbeat character dramas with ambiguous endings - so I think they semi-negate each other.

Hope I'm wrong - would love to see "Moonlight" or "Manchester" win BP instead of "LLL"!
 

Josh Steinberg

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I imagine you're all going to think I'm crazy for saying this, but of the nine nominated films for Best Picture this year, I felt that La La Land and Moonlight were in many ways the most similar. The stories couldn't be more different, but walking out of both movies, I felt that the things I liked and disliked in both films were the same, and that my criticism and praise for both was nearly identical.
 

Colin Jacobson

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Both Moonlight and Manchester are far worthier films than La3 and, I believe, will better stand the test of time.
I honestly don't get the love for "LLL". I think it's a situation where people are so excited to see a 1950s-style musical that they're praising it way more than it deserves - just like with "The Artist" 5 years ago...
 

Josh Steinberg

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I honestly don't get the love for "LLL". I think it's a situation where people are so excited to see a 1950s-style musical that they're praising it way more than it deserves - just like with "The Artist" 5 years ago...
I don't know that I agree exactly (I don't think either was a bad picture, but neither would end up on my best lists), but I definitely saw a similarity between not just the movies, but the public and critical response to them.
 
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Colin Jacobson

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I don't know that I agree exactly (I don't think either was a bad picture, but neither would end up on my best lists), but I definitely saw a similarity between not just the movies, but the public and critical response to them.
I don't think either "LLL" or "Artist" are bad films - I just think their acclaim is far out of proportion with their actual quality, and I think a lot of the acclaim comes from factors related to "novelty".

I admit I'm not a big fan of musicals, but I can enjoy them. "LLL" just left me cold - it tried so hard to be a "classic musical" but didn't match up with the greats it tried to emulate.

It just made me want to watch one of those classics instead. It was like listening to a recording of a Beatles tribute band - why do that when I can listen to the real thing?
 

Robert Crawford

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I honestly don't get the love for "LLL". I think it's a situation where people are so excited to see a 1950s-style musical that they're praising it way more than it deserves - just like with "The Artist" 5 years ago...
I try to avoid, but not always successful, from using that type of line about films that didn't impress me as much as it did with others. It's like saying, what is wrong with those people, can't they see it's not that good. Anyhow, I'm just talking about my perspective with such comments.
 
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Colin Jacobson

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I try to avoid, but not always successful, from using that type of line about films that didn't impress me as much as it did with others. It's like saying, what is wrong with those people, can't they see it's not that good. Anyhow, I'm just talking about my perspective with such comments.
I'm not saying there's anything "wrong" with people in that circumstance. It's an observation/belief but it doesn't connote failure in the people who like the movie.

Expectations are a huge influence in our enjoyment/appreciation of movies. If you love classic musicals, you're naturally going to be predisposed to love a modern-day version of one - even if "objectively" the product isn't that great.

I'm not immune from that so I don't say it to condemn others...
 

Jimbo64

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The Oscars are so subjective, in hindsight certain Best Picture winners really puzzle me. "Oliver", "The Greatest Show on Earth", "Dances With Wolves", "Chicago", Crash", "Slumdog Millionaire", "The Artist" .... All good films but when you look at the competition that year all are very questionable picks. I personally would love a tie between LLL and Moonlight this year
 

Mark-W

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Thanks for the excellent review, Matt.

I look forward to the commentary track.

The only place we disagree is that I would give this film that rare 5 out of 5 stars for the film.
 
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Tino

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The Oscars are so subjective, in hindsight certain Best Picture winners really puzzle me. "Oliver", "The Greatest Show on Earth", "Dances With Wolves", "Chicago", Crash", "Slumdog Millionaire", "The Artist" .... All good films but when you look at the competition that year all are very questionable picks. I personally would love a tie between LLL and Moonlight this year
Of all these films I somewhat agree with some but absolutely disagree with the notion that Dances With Wolves is somehow undeserving. It was the best film that year. Yes better than Goodfellas. It deserved every Oscar it got imo.
 
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Jimbo64

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Of all these films I somewhat agree with some but absolutely disagree with the notion that Dances With Wolves is somehow undeserving. It was the best film that year. Yes better than Goodfellas. It deserved every Oscar it got imo.
It's def a great film but I think most "Top 100" and critic's lists have always included Goodfellas but I haven't seen that many include Dances With Wolves. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion though.
 
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