With all the hype surrounding this year’s Best Picture Academy Award winner, I’ve given it a watch and thrown my two cents in!
While Moonlight is one of the better films I’ve seen this year, I do have some problems with it. The first of which is how the story is told. The film actually points out its three act structure by having each act told from a different point in the main character’s life; each titled by the names he went under to reflect his situations.
The first is titled ‘Little’ and takes place when he is about 10 years old, and dealing with growing up as a poor son of a crack addict mother. The second is titled ‘Chiron,’ the character’s real name, and takes place when he is a teenager discovering his sexuality. The third is titled ‘Black’ and follows his adult life as he has become a dealer and explores his moral qualms in contributing to the effects that made his childhood hell.
The problem with this film is that the first act is far more compelling than the other two, perhaps thanks in part to Mahershala Ali’s oscar-winning performance as Juan, a dealer who takes the young Chiron under his wing. In the second and third acts, there is a lot of repetition which slows the story down. The film isn’t long, but a good fifteen to twenty minutes could have been shaved off and kept the story developing at the same punchy weight that the first act had.
My other main problem with the film was the choice of music. There is a fair amount of hip-hop which obviously provides a backdrop to the setting and events of the film, but there’s also a lot of classical music played over close-ups of the characters to point out emotional peaks in the story arcs. Both together are quite jarring and changed the tone enough to take me out of the movie. I’m not suggesting that the film should have stayed in one music genre, indeed plenty of films work with an eclectic music mix, but the inconsistencies bugged me here.
Onto praise now, and the first thing you’ll notice about the film is how good the performances are. Obviously Ali’s performance has garnered much praise, but the performances of the child actors are all compelling and utterly believable. Naomie Harris’s story arc as the mother is possibly the best of the bunch, thanks to her subtle, yet noticeable shifts in viewpoint as she ages.
The best scene of the film for me came at the end of the second act, without giving too much away, it comes at a point when Chiron snaps. All you see is him walking through his school, but the acting, music and the way that it’s shot gives what could have been entirely mundane a moment of genuine frustrated intensity.
The final question to answer is did Moonlight deserve to win Best Picture? Without having seen all of the other nominated films, I can’t give a fair comment on it, but compared to other best picture winners, I’d say it’s in the weaker half, just on account of its slightly flawed storytelling. Compared to Spotlight and Birdman (the two previous winners) which kept the pace up throughout, without the need for action scenes, or breaks from the narrative (especially in Spotlight), Moonlight falls a little short.
However it’s still well worth watching, as a deftly handled emotional take on the petty crime genre with a coming of age drama wrapped up inside. 8.5/10