Tag Archives: A24

A Prayer Before Dawn

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Cast off into Thai prison for dealing heroin, the strange yet true life of British boxer Billy Moore is a ballad of visceral rawness which sometimes falters against its source material.

Due to the nature of the medium, books can host multiple sub-plots, nuances and themes while films have a limited window to tell a complete arc. The problem films face when transitioning a novel to the screen is either conciseness or fidelity. In trying to faithfully render Billy Moore’s memoirs, A Prayer Before Dawn’s ambitiousness entangles the film in a bramble of plot threads. Suffering from a drifting focus, A Prayer Before Dawn veers from the strangeness and savagery of Thai prison, to Billy’s fight to survive and curb his addiction while also being a boxing film. Even a sprinkle of romance is tossed into the the mix. These elements would meld together in the paper print of a good long book, but in a film they result in a plot which leaps and then spends scenes orientating itself. A Prayer Before Drawn plunges the viewer into a shocking and gruesome reality, but its many stops prevent it being an engrossing journey through Thailand’s underbelly.  

Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire makes some admirably bold decisions in A Prayer Before Dawn. Absent of any subtitles throughout, the viewer shares Billy’s fear and confusion as he is lost in the Thai commands of guard and prisoner alike. The prisoners themselves are all former Thai convicts. Their grounding in the film’s setting explains how the prisoners unflinchingly depict acts of rape, extortion and violence with a disturbing level of calm. The final and best gamble Sauvaire pulls is his choice of Joe Cole as Billy Moore. Cole brings to Billy Moore the same intensity as his character John Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet Cole channels this intensity into someone bearing the brunt of the world, buckling from inner turmoil while reeling at external dangers. Cole captivates as Billy Moore, rendering A Prayer Before Dawn into an intimate look at another rebuilding his life, a man both dangerous and vulnerable. This duality draws away from A Prayer Before Dawn’s problems and proves Joe Cole’s promise to become a venerable star of our time.

Visually, Sauvaire’s use of space and framing invokes the claustrophobia and oppressiveness of prison both environmentally and socially. Certain shots of Billy, his pale skin amid a sea of tattooed prisoners marks out his isolation and seeming incompatibility with this lifestyle.  

Throughout A Prayer Before Dawn I saw the passion and potential of this unique story beyond the rosy tourist images of Thailand. However I struggled to be truly enveloped by the film. Hopefully a second viewing will improve my opinion but I would still recommend A Prayer Before Dawn to anyone looking for something different.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

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First Reformed

Rating: 5 out of 5 (classic)

Director: Paul Schrader

Synopsis: A dying priest attempts to save one of his dwindling flock from radicalism. In doing so, Reverend Enrst Toller (Ethan Hawke) veers towards eco-terrorism as he loses all hope for himself and the world.

Through the self-introspection of a priest, America looks at itself and the world beyond and screams in desperation. Sliding from its puritan and republican ideals America has become like the First Reformed chapel, a church abandoned, the city upon a hill no more.  The chapel of First Reformed is a testament to America’s nascent struggle for liberty and tolerance. Now the chapel is absorbed by the Christian organisation Abundant Life whose creationist fervour shields the energy company who finances it. The chapel is a stark reflection of America today, torn by ardent fundamentalism and corporate greed who perpetuate a stagnant quagmire of polarised political partisanship.

First Reformed’s protagonist, Reverend Ernst Toller, has done everything expected of him and yet the American dream has failed him. Now seemingly at death’s door, Ernst begins to question where we are heading and despairs at a system willingly leading the planet towards a slow demise for its own gain. The looming environmental collapse we now face grasps at a deeper aspect of humanity; an awareness of our own fragility. We all sense at times how brittle our life, the lives of our loved ones and the world truely are. When we contemplate this fragility it is easy to be swallowed into a void of despair and uncertainty as the world seems forever poised to crumble. Ernst’s journey in First Reformed is a grapple with the ceaseless death without renewal, leaving him to accept death and hope again or become death in an attempt to master it.

The film’s condemnation of big business and big religion in propagating America’s laissez-faire approach to environmental pollution is subtly done through Reverend Joel Jeffries (Cedric the Entertainer) and businessman Edward Balq (Michael Gaston). Their bullish denial of climate change unravels under Ernst’s guilt for what we have done to this world. First Reformed’s hard stare at our collective responsibility for despoiling god’s work sadly comes at a time when what America has saved is targeted for destruction. Under Trump’s presidency American environmental regulation has been discarded while federal lands and national parks seem ripe for resource exploitation. Whether we would fare better if America was more ecological is a hypothetical. At humanity’s destructive rate in First Reformed we will burn every blade of grass before seriously changing our lifestyles.

When I first watched Gattaca I knew Ethan Hawke was bound for greatness, now First Reformed proves it.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Menashe

Film Score: 3 out 5 (Good)

Director: Joshua Z Weinstein

Cast: Menashe Lustig, Yoel Falkowitz, Ruben Niborski, Meyer Schwartz, Yoel Weisshaus, Ariel Vaysman

Synopsis: Following the loss of his wife, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) is a man bearing the brunt of the world. Loathed by his family and belittled by his peers and his boss, Menahse struggles to find his place in New York’s Hasidic Jewish community. Menahse’s attempts to be with his son, who is kept at arm’s length by Menashe’s brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus), finds resistance in a community where being single is frowned upon.

How many different worlds walk alongside ours, invisibly existing until suddenly they materialise. Opening with a pan of everyday New York foot traffic, Menashe blends into the ordinary crowd until noticing his formal clothes belong to the 19th century. Menashe’s theme is hermetically contained in this opening shot. It is the flickering clash between Menashe and the crowd, a thread of ordinary problems amid a life starkly different from our own. Widowed and struggling to cope, Menashe suffers a dead end job beneath a vexing manager. Compared to the rigidity and stoicism of his peers and family, Menasche’s warmth is mistaken for foolishness, and only appreciated by his son Rieven (Ruben Niborski).

Entering into the Hasidic community both rivets and detracts. Having grown up orbiting around a nuclear family, I saw in Menashe the strengths of an actual community. Menashe is connected to something greater, a group bonded together by religion. Yet under those same strings I would certainly choke. Religion in Menasche’s community is a 24 hour procedure encroaching every facet of life and smothering any choice. Concepts within the Hasidic community were complete anathema to me, disconnecting me from it and Menasche. It is to the credit of the director and his two fellow writers, Alex Lipschultz and Musa Syeed, that they depicted the society so openly.

Despite my criticisms , the disparity between my world and Menashe jolts the film with an undercurrent of tension. From conversations at the local synagogue, Menashe’s world is cleaved by a thin divide between piety and apostasy, and Menashe subtly teeters between the two. Atop of this tension are glimmers where Menashe seems poised to break from his community. To see another human soul pitted against such odds and try to change their situation is Menashe’s power, connecting me to a man so unlike myself. Another powerful pull is the very real relationship between Menashe and  his son Rieven. Both share love and loss together. Rieven like all sons do, begins to challenge his father, changing their dynamic and increasing Menashe’s woes.

Menashe’s small budget and the director’s past work in documentaries leads to a film which is visually solid but reflects its lack of funds. Bearing a mainly documentary style of wide outdoor shots and an intense focus on individuals when indoors. There are symbolic devices of brilliance in Menashe’s ponderous moments of silence. I felt a particular poignancy when Menashe, alone in the local baths, places his head below the water and sinks back into his community. It is the solid writing and excellent performances which hold Menashe together. Yoel Weisshaus as Menashe’s brother-in-law Eizek really plays up to his role as Menashe’s antagonist, beating him down no matter the circumstances. Menashe Lustig as Menashe has a gregarious warmth which pairs well with his son’s playfulness.

Menashe’s slow pace mixed with its entrancing religious score reflects the central character’s inner turmoil, but the film drags in its final act. It is an unfortunate flaw which made me wish for Menashe to end in the last 15 minutes, undercutting the story’s resonance.

What Menashe attests to is the power of story, to find those universal emotions transcending background and race. It is a maxim that A24, as a film company, clearly understands. Over the past year A24 has released films from A Ghost Story to The Florida Project which are different, which have pushed my tastes and ultimately changed what I expect from cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Good Time

Film Score: 5 out 5 (Classic)

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Cast: Benny Safdie, Robert Pattinson, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, Jennifer Lason Leigh, Buddy Duress

Synopsis: Following a bank heist gone awry Connie (Robert Pattinson) resolves to free his disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie). From dodgy bail bondsmen to ex-cons and drug dealers, Connie traverses New York’s forgotten underbelly in a frantic spiral to bail out Nick.

Devoid of division between title and opening, Good Time pans across New York before swooping down onto Nick and his psychiatrist Peter (Peter Verby). The opening scene is a deceiving moment of calm, with the pulsating soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never foreshadowing events. Soaked in the grainy noise and neon colours of New York, Good Time engulfs the viewer as Connie commits a mesmerising display of self- destruction not seen since Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Connie does both the imaginable and the unthinkable as he bungles his way towards Nick, yet Pattinson humanises Connie. Bearing a tangible desperation in his eyes, Connie is detestable but understandable and even charming when his oddball personality shows. Pattinson again proves what is witnessed in The Rover and The Lost City of Z, that he is a great actor.

Amid Connie’s frantic spiral springs a manic strain of humour from both Connie and the rest of the cast, depicted by upcoming and untrained actors.A standout performance comes from Buddy Durress as Ray, a freshly released ex-convict who becomes Connie’s accomplice. Ray’s confusion when Connie finds him and later attempts to befriend Connie adds emotion and humour into the plot. Equally facing lengthy prison time if caught, Ray’s recollected 24 hours since leaving prison unveils a parallel life to Connie. A cautionary tale of mixing brandy and Xanax, Ray’s story before crossing Connie is the perfect prelude to Good Time’s tense final act.

Sporting a substantial budget of two million dollars compared to their earlier work, the Safdie brothers mingle their hallmark guerrilla style with sleek longer shots and intimate close ups. The use of lighting is one of Good Time’s visual strengths, with ambient sources leaving characters in a darkened haze or a neon glow, pervading the film with a documentary feel. Beyond visuals, Good Time mirrors The Florida Project in having a great story alongside untrained actors. The combination transforms Good Time from being another cathartic dip through a city’s underworld into a believable tale beyond society’s safety net.

In film there are moments of convergence. Works from different artists unconsciously overlap into an undercurrent like rivers meeting at the ocean, crystallising the hopes and fears of our society. In The Florida Project, Good Time and Buster’s Mal Heart which I aim to review soon, we see the ignored parts of America, desperate and angry. Interspersed between the bank heist and the mad turmoil of Connie’s spree are still moments focused upon Nick. Emanating a vulnerable loneliness, Nick’s frustration spews forth, revealing his and Connie’s troubled childhood and that the heist was Connie’s plan to give them a new life. During these scenes Good Time resembles Matthieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, depicting the lives of people trapped outside the middle-class bubble. Beginning and concluding with Nick being comforted by his psychiatrist Peter (Peter Verby) a fatalistic tragedy looms over the brothers. Peter later consoles Nick, saying;

‘Nick, you are where you are supposed to be, and Connie is where he is supposed to be’.

Peter’s words are an unwitting admission that Nick and Connie were bound to remain in the mad world which Good Time depicts, where people deal, scheme and scam to get by. Despite all that unfolds, Good Time concludes with a moving end as Iggy Pop rasps about love while Nick begins to open up to others. The contrasting narrative between Nick and Connie emphasises the very human urge to protect loved ones which compels Connie, shifting Good Time beyond a simple crime thriller.

Having waited three months for Good Time to release in the U.K. since its distribution in America, the film was worth the delay. Good Time has sadly received a limited release across Britain. I thank Home Manchester for actually showing Good Time. For those yet to see the film, a DVD or streaming platform might be the only option.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

The Florida Project

Film Score: 4 out 5 stars (Excellent)

Director: Sean Baker

Cast: Bria Vinaite, Brooklyn Prince, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Willem Dafoe

Synopsis: Orlando’s Disneyland is the American Dream, a vivid mirage of luxury enticing people from every nation. Beyond that fleeting dream where tourists fail to look, are motels full of desperate people living week to week before they have to move on. 6 year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live outside the Disney fantasy. Through Moonee’s eyes, we see her fragile life break down over one long summer break.

The Florida Project is a documentary wrapped inside a drama. The events are fictitious but the people who live in this forgotten corner of America are real enough. In 2014 I volunteered in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Every second weekend was spent in a roadside motel outside of Asheville. Besides the straggle of unfortunate tourists and Mexican workers, the motel’s patrons were people who had nowhere else to go and would wind up sleeping in the alcove of McDonald’s when their money disappeared. Poverty is an eternal and ubiquitous problem. In Europe, we have a smug disdain for America’s inequalities, forgetting that we had the same problem until 70 years ago and to some extent still do. In The Florida Project, director Sean Baker has created an unflinching portrait of America’s poor and forgotten which neither fetishises nor patronises its subjects. Through Sean Baker’s lens, the inhabitants of the Magic Castle and beyond are just people getting by.

Baker’s Tangerine is a film that I have ashamedly not watched. I do remember the film, shot on iphone 5s and with mainly ordinary people playing the roles, being lauded upon release for its realism. The Florida Project continues Tangerine’s legacy, dissolving the fourth wall into a blurred pulp of reality and performance. Bria Vinaite is an untrained actress headhunted through Instagram. The children in the film are actors with only a few previous credits between them. The intermingling of young talent, untrained actors and season performers creates surreal yet beautiful moments where events might be scripted, improvised or the actors just being themselves. It is charming to watch Halley and Magic Castle’s manager Bob (Willem Defoe) arguing until suddenly both begin to snicker like old friends.

Baker lets his performers be themselves, especially the children. The young stars behave before the camera with the unfettered confidence of youth, running off-script and simply speaking their minds like children do. Earlier this year, charming animated french film My Life as a Courgette  broached the dark adult world through a child’s eyes, and The Florida Project does much the same. Awash with incandescent violent and popping orange, the children’s summer is a frolic through mysterious new lands as they run past the neon signs and cartoon figures of motels and gift shops. Their innocence lends both warmth and poignancy to later events as Halley increasingly struggles to keep her and Moonee sheltered.

Willem Defoe may deliver his best performance as Bob. Defoe does not need words to show Bob’s conflict between his job and his desire to help the Magic Castle’s residents, especially the children. Caring and fatherly to Moonee and her friends, Bob becomes slowly crushed by an uncaring world, much like Halley.

The Florida Project’s pacing falters for the final twenty minutes but does not detract from the film’s engrossing story or social message.

Thanks to A24 for supporting the unusual and the innovative like Ghost Story and Good Time. 

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

A Ghost Story

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis:  Haunting and harrowing, A Ghost Story confronts the truism that in a dark and cold universe our lives and legacies are inconsequential mayflies, leaving only the churning shadow of mortality. Couple C (Casey Affleck), a musician, and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are suddenly and tragically torn apart when C dies in a car accident in front of their quiet home. In C’s return as a ghost and haunting of his former home, writer and director David Lowery searches for a spiritual answer to death.

Visually, A Ghost Story is closer to a long piece of video art more comfortable in the quiet white walls of a modern museum. Sparse with dialogue and even motion, the film often becomes a beautiful slideshow of still images, framed through doorways and windows as the ghost perceives life coldly from the outside. There is almost a Vermeeresque knack to how Lowery composes these images. Through Lowery’s eyes, ordinary structures and objects bleed into one flowing image while audio samples of the world outside, or Daniel Heart’s score ebb and flow across it. C’s presence, returning as a simple white sheet with black eye holes, has an unsettling simplicity. Given the aspect ratio of the film and the ghost’s faceless presences, shots felt like uncovered old photos of seances, with C poised to lunge at the unaware people caught in the frame. C’s own disconnect with the world is poignantly conveyed by motion. The world seems deathly still even before C’s death. The inhabitants of C’s home move on and as C persists, the camera begins to spin between rooms while C shifts his gaze while days become months at a dizzying pace.

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(Affleck as C’s ghost along with director David Lowery)

Affleck and Mara perform well in their roles as props for Lowery’s vision and Daniel Heart’s soundtrack when either actor appears on the screen. Heart cannot be praised enough for his work on A Ghost Story. C’s ghost could have been a difficult character to connect with, but through Heart’s soundtrack the ghost becomes a canvas onto which each new song projects a different emotion. Heart’s work really conveys the ghost’s mounting anger and frustration, along with Lowery’s focus on the ghost’s expressionless face as lights flicker in response to his rage. The ghost’s maligned presence in various frames at times emanates menace or isolation.

A Ghost Story’s experimental reliance upon image and sound will cause many people to justifiably leave the cinema in the first twenty minutes. Although beautiful, the film is peppered with moments of dead time where nothing happens. In one particular scene Rooney Mara, grief stricken, makes a meal out of a pie.  The camera, without music or words, unflinchingly records Mara breakdown as she shovels the pie and crust until running away to vomit. These moments, like the one-man pie contest, are a struggle which only ardent art house cinema fans will persist through. Yet A Ghost Story is a rewarding experience with themes that few directors or film studios are willing to explore. The house and C’s return represent our shared fear of oblivion, to see whether the world remembers us. The world will likely not remember us and the only thing to do is leave little notes like M does, and let go.

After immediate viewing, A Ghost Story was going to receive three stars but in the passing week I have found myself revisiting the film, its ideas, and its haunting musical score. In retrospect the film is a struggle to watch, but many will appreciate it more in the days afterwards. Thanks to A24 for backing such a refreshingly unusual film.

For trailer, see below.

By Saul Shimmin

The Exception [Trailer Review]

Outlook: Simple, but possibly pleasing

Director: David Leveaux

Cast: Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Ben Daniels, & Eddie Marsan.

Whenever the A24 logo appears, I pay attention. When I noticed that The Exception takes place during World War II, I was sold. After watching the trailer, the plot appears fairly basic: Forbidden love, dark secrets, and a mysterious man who may end up being the villain.

Receiving little information from the trailer, I will go see this movie because I’m willing to fully place my faith in A24 to produce another solid film after having success across varied genres such as VVitch, Ex Machina, Room, 20th Century Women, Locke, and Moonlight. However, we must all remember that not all of the studio’s films have been well received by critics and audiences. Take Trespass Against Us or Mojave. Both films displeased their respective viewers despite sporting strong casts and interesting plots.

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I’m a fan of Christopher Plummer and The Exception’s trailer is reminiscent of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which is one of my all time favorite films. Placing my bias aside, The Exception has the potential to be great if David Leveaux can balance the atmosphere of mystery that the trailer cultivates alongside the themes of love and duty.  However, The Exception may be the opposite of its namesake, relying upon the well-worn trope of star-crossed lovers and devolving into a half-boiled thriller.

Overall, I’m cautiously hopeful. Let us know your thoughts.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Free Fire

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Executive producer: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Arnie Hammer, Ben Wheatley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor, & Sharlto Copley

Free Fire is one long Mexican stand-off between gun smugglers and I.R.A. members after a deal goes south. Trapped together in the confines of a disused factory upon the dilapidated waterfront of 1970’s Boston, Free Fire is a more refined version of Reservoir Dogs. Laced with humour, especially from South African gun smuggler Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Free Fire is a refreshing romp that other action films could learn from. Ben Wheatley delivers a brilliant action film which does not attempt to be overly serious or complex.

By sporting such a large cast including well-known and recognisable actors, Free Fire risked becoming filled with half-developed characters acting as padding for the plot. Yet Free Fire’s setting of a locked room is the film’s biggest strength. It focuses our attention towards the battle to survive, leaving only a few brief pauses where we learn about the many characters through interactions and scraps of dialogue. Given the backdrop, the characters feel real as they squabble, try to outsmart their opponents, or simply survive.

Having been a fan of Ben Wheatley since A Field in England, it seems that pitting characters in a closed environment is becoming one of Wheatley’s tropes.

The action stands out in Free Fire. Instead of being a slick set of choreographed scenes, characters fire haphazardly and nervously as they scramble for cover, while bullets ricochet off the walls. No one is smoothly despatched in the film. Every character suffers injury upon injury which adds to the film’s dark humour. Nor is the film purely focused around the action. Subplots of romance, betrayal and rivalry quickly emerge between characters before and in between the shooting.

The cast all deliver great performances, but Sharlto Copley, as bumbling and arrogant South African gun runner Vernon, steals the show. Arnie Hammer (Ord) was a suprising favourite due to his rivalry with hardened IRA member Frank (Michael Smiley). Although Free Fire is an action-comedy which has no main character, there is no competition between the cast to be the comic relief, as each character has their own moment to shine.

There are a few moments near the end, where Free Fire‘s pace begins to falter, but otherwise this an enjoyable film.

Free Fire is a great film that you should go see while it is in the cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

It Comes At Night -Teaser

Outlook: Spine chillingly good

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

In the wake of The VVitch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A24 has been developing a fine pedigree in the horror genre. It Comes At Night looks to be the darkest horror film produced by A24 so far.

The film’s premise is that two families, escaping an unknown menace ravaging America, find refuge together in an isolated hut. Yet the threat outside their shelter is quickly overshadowed by the enmity and paranoia which develops between them all.

It Comes At Night is directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, a rising director who gained critical acclaim for his debut film Krisha, about an estranged woman trying to reconnect with her family. Brandishing a larger budget for his second film, Shults has crafted a post-apocalyptic horror which borrows heavily from The Road, which is one of my favourite films. From the teaser trailer alone, both films explore the themes of family, love, and survival in a brooding and eerie post-apocalyptic setting where danger is everywhere. One scene in the teaser trailer, where the camera silently pans down a dimly corridor adorned by family photos, is reminiscent of the cannibal’s house in The Road.

Unlike The Road, where the apocalypse is caused by an unknown cataclysm, It Comes At Night suggests an unknown, but palpable force is sweeping across the world. Horror films have been using the trope of an unseen menace since The Blair Witch Project,  to create the monster in the audience’s own imagination.

Horror based on suggestion is effective but also destructive. The trope creates a subjective expectation of what the menace is, which often surpasses the final reveal and renders a film anti-climatic. The better horror films which rely on suggestion conclude without any revelation. Paranormal Activity did an excellent job in crafting the house’s dark presence without divulging anything at the film’s end.

It Comes At Night bears the challenge of delivering upon the threat outside, without the revelation being disappointing or jarring with plot’s slow-paced tension. Regardless, I am excited to see this film on release, and from the trailer alone, Trey Edward Shults has the potential to be a great director.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Moonlight

Moonlight follows the life of Chiron, a boy raised in a volatile household and drug-ridden neighborhood, from childhood to manhood. Director Barry Jenkins divides the movie into three sections: LittleChiron, and Black. Each part corresponds to a different stage of Chiron’s life: elementary school, high school, and life as a young adult. Jenkins delivers a heartfelt story that provokes audiences to the point of almost being infuriating. At each stage of his life, Chiron navigates different ordeals: living with a drug-addict mother, discovering his sexuality in a non-accepting environment, and finding his path in life. Moonlight is only Jenkins’ second full-length feature film and it is distributed by the burgeoning film company, A24.

Film Score: Five out of Five  (Classic) 

Everyone needs to see this movie, but not everyone will enjoy it. On its surface, Moonlight appears to be another Boyhood due to their similar plots about following a boy through pivotal moments in his life. Moonlight, however, is about much more than just a boy growing up. Instead, it expertly questions a wide variety of things: the ethics of drug-dealing, masculinity, teenage love, and self-identity.

Moonlight excels in dealing with each conundrum Chiron faces, but the movie’s strongest moment comes in its third act, Black. Here, Chiron is a young man, dealing drugs in Atlanta to make a living. One day, a high school friend/lover, Kevin, phones Chiron to tell him he’s been on his mind. After the call, Chiron goes to visit Kevin in Miami and arrives in a pimped-out Cadillac, wearing a gold grill, and playing a throbbing hip-hop song that exclaims “Ya’ll fucking with the wrong muthafucka.” With each of these facets of his appearance Chiron attempts to exude a tough facade and hide his true nature and homosexuality.

I highlight this act because Jenkins beautifully sets up a realistic persona for Chiron, then just as realistically tears it down. Despite his macho demeanor and muscled up form, the audience can tell Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is still struggling with his identity. This is not because Rhodes overacts or Jenkins overtly tells the audience that Chiron is struggling. Instead, the audience learns of Chiron’s inner-struggle due to his awkward stuttering and inability to maintain eye contact with Kevin after seeing him for the first time in a decade. A teenage girl might say “Awwww that’s so cute that he’s so awkward.” It is not cute. What it is, is a mastery of acting and storytelling. Chiron’s facade, the act he’s been hiding behind and polishing since he went to juvy, falls apart after Kevin admonishes him for dealing drugs and living this false life. The penultimate moment happens when Kevin goes over to his cafe’s jukebox and puts on Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger.” The song fits the scene perfectly and forces the two men to share their first real moment of the night. Both of their adult-selves disappear, and they become two teenagers, again, in love.

While Moonlight, like Fences, challenges stereotypes of masculinity, this movie is at times the complete opposite of Fences . Where Fences is garrulous and often quite loud, Moonlight utilizes silences. For instance, in the above scene, it is in the quiet moments between Kevin and Chiron that the audience sees Chiron’s love for Kevin. In Fences, Troy (Denzel Washington) would have expounded his love loudly and with as many words as possible. Fences had a warm, softly-yellow visual style creating an aged look, while Moonlight utilized such cinematography for stressful nighttime scenes. For example where Chiron’s mother calls him a faggot, or where Kevin confronts him about why he drove all the way to Miami to see him. In other nighttime scenes, Jenkins switches to a stark style that is more alike to what our eyes perceive in real life. During these scenes, good things happen: Chiron finds love on a beach and Chiron is reunited with Kevin in the cafe.

Please, please, please go see this movie. I deem it a new classic. It grapples with so many issues that I do not have the space nor the wisdom to do them justice. Not to mention the supporting cast is phenomenal. Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, and Janelle Monae excel in their respective roles of drug dealer/mentor, mother/drug addict, and girlfriend/mother-figure.   

As always, we welcome your comments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham