Believe the hype. Moonlight is great. The acting is spot-on, and while Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes are deservedly getting a lot of accolades, it’s also the much smaller supporting cast that makes the film sing.
There’s Shariff Earp who is so natural opposite Ali’s Juan and Patrick Decile, frightening as Terrel. Both are fantastic and help make their scenes come alive. The blocking in the opening shot – Earp and Ali’s intros – is also quite good.
Basically everything in Moonlight works. The chapter structure, the continuity of acting from actor to actor, the bold color scheme, the score. One thing that really struck me is some of the camera operation. I’m not talking about those handheld or steadicam shots, but the pans on negative space. A great one is from Rhodes’ Black to Kevin (André Holland) in the diner towards the end. The pan covers so much empty space. It’s like a chasm. But it’s fluid and smooth – much harder than it looks when unmotivated by movement – and just kind of oozes across the frame.
I enjoyed how the camera calmed a lot in the third act. It felt much stabler. Maybe that’s how Black feels in those moments, but I don’t know if it’s so on the nose. Just generally more grown up. There’s a different emotion – not the pent of anger of the first two (really: the confusion of the first, anger of the second), but something that’s seductive, uncertain, and shy.
The middle section – Chiron – has another moment that jumped out to me. Spoilers aside, it’s in the climactic shot of that act, as the camera moves with Chiron (Sanders) into the school. There’s a beautiful hesitation just before he enters the classroom. It’s small and subtle. I bet it was directed in. And it’s note-perfect.
There are guns in Moonlight that are never fired and the cops aren’t really much of a presence, but at times it’s still tense and dangerous as hell. It’s certainly not a thriller, but Barry Jenkins gets so much quiet fury from his actors that at times it feels like the film could boil over just from a wrong look.