Moonlight is a coming-of-age tale about a h*mos*xual African-American boy living in Florida. That basic plot description, however, does little to convey the incisive poetry of Barry Jenkins’ film, whose narrative is divided between three stages in the life of its protagonist, Chiron (aka «Little» as an adolescent, and «Black» as an adult). From its astounding opening shot on a street corner circling around a drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) who’ll come to be young Chiron’s surrogate father figure—since his mother (Naomie Harris) is a junkie—this evocative drama captures an overwhelming sense of both place and character.
As Chiron grows up, enjoying fleeting moments of euphoria amidst routine abuse and neglect, Jenkins charts thorny individual and interpersonal dynamics in which both salvation and damnation seem to stem from the same (or, at least, similar) source. Sensitive, subtle, intense and complex, it’s a triumph of both expressive direction and—courtesy of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes as Chiron, as well as André Holland and Janelle Monáe—nuanced, heart-rending performance.