Rated R
110 Minutes
Released October 21st

Moonlight is the poignant tale of a sensitive youth growing up in a challenging home life situation in a dangerous Miami neighborhood. He has nearly impossible odds stacked against ever achieving success in life. The film is based on an unproduced play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by MacArthur Fellow Tarell Alvin McCraney. The central character “Chiron” is played by three different actors at different stages of his life, and the film is divided into three separate chapters: childhood, teen years and adulthood, each time period with its own unique struggles to be overcome. In Greek mythology, Chiron was a Centaur who was more sensitive than the other Centaurs, and whose own mother had rejected him, causing him great pain. Later in life his sensitivity allows him to become a great healer. I don’t know for a fact that McCraney meant to echo the Greek story in his play – I suspect he did. In the myth, Chiron, after being rejected by his mother, is adopted by the Greek Sun God Apollo. The film’s character Chiron is cast off emotionally by his troubled mother and then is taken under the wing of a wise and caring neighborhood figure played by Mahershala Ali, who drives a car with a king’s crown on the dashboard.

Each of the actors who portray a stage of Chiron’s life is excellent. Alex R. Hibbert is the nine-year-old Chiron, nicknamed “Little”. In his first work, this young actor shows great natural talent with very few lines – he portrays the pain of his character through facial expression and body language. Ashton Sanders (Straight Outta Compton) is the teenage Chiron, and Trevante Rhodes is Chiron as a young man. Hibbert and Sanders have a strong physical resemblance. Rhodes is a different body type, so even though we are to believe that Chiron has built up muscle in prison, it is hard to imagine this is the same character. Janelle Monae as “Teresa”, a woman who takes Chiron in when he is rejected at home, and Naomie Harris as his drug-addled mother, both give wonderful performances.

The movie has flashes of great style amidst a rambling narrative. The film would have much more impact with a tighter and more consistent structure. Writer/director Barry Jenkins began his career making short films, and indeed here it feels as though he has made three short films and patched them together. Composer Nicholas Britell has scored some remarkable montages with incredibly beautiful and creative music – scenes of children playing in the park against strains of classical music, Chiron being cradled in the ocean, learning to float covered by a languid and ethereal musical theme…these scenes seem to be set apart from the rest of the film stylistically rather than being part of the whole. They are reveries that appear out of nowhere and then disappear, never to resurface.

There are many beautifully told pieces in the puzzle that is Moonlight, which make it a movie worth seeing. The film however is lacking a cohesiveness that would have given it great power.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com