For all the struggles we watch the main character face in Moonlight, the film presents a story that is incredibly compelling to watch. Thanks to several confident performances and a cinematic presentation that ably works to invite the viewer in, here is a film that uses a triptych storytelling device to great depict how one develops an identity. Various circumstances, locations and identifiers provide a setup. However, despite witnessing a truly personal story being told, it manages to feel incredibly rounded. It makes the setup practically beside the point, as Moonlight finds a way to say a lot with a little. Up for multiple Oscars, the film can now be taken home and watched by many more who can see just how great this film is.
As stated, the story is told in three parts, all focused on a black male, Chiron, in different periods of his life. The first portion focuses on Chiron when he is just a child (Alex Hibbert) fitted with the nickname “Little”, as he’s smaller than the other boys and teased for it. A middle chapter finds us watching the teenaged Chiron (Ashton Sanders) deal with bullies and various pressures around him. The final portion of the film sees an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) continuing to struggle with his own identity, assuming the guise of a drug-dealing thug instead.
During these stories, Chiron is supported by/dealing with a few other players including his childhood friend Kevin (played as an adult by Andre Holland), Chiron’s drug-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris), a Cuban drug dealer who is kind to Chiron, Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Juan’s benevolent wife Teresa (Janelle Monae). There is an importance to each of these characters for Chiron and they manage to take on varying forms for him, as we see the different time periods in his life unfold. As with everyone in life, time can change a person, but you can also see how some never change.
To speak of specifics, it is important to note Chiron lives in a less glamorous part of Miami, Florida. This troubled part of the area features drug activity and general cruelty when it comes to Chiron dealing with his dilemma of how to come out and stay true to who he is. With that in mind, Moonlight is far less concerned with making grand pronouncements of what it is to be a gay black man in modern society and more about how difficult it is for anyone to truly speak their mind, come out of their shell and not suppress what makes them who they are.
Taking this approach helps to make Chiron a compelling character to watch (even while played by three different actors), as we see this person grow overtime and go through a level of anguish as far as finding the right way to truly express himself. With a quiet, non-threatening presence in the first two acts, it is not until the third act that the character is even comfortable speaking for prolonged periods of time. It allows the supporting cast to truly shine right next to the very introspective lead performances, but also places emphasis on just how complex it is for Chiron to even exist.
Fortunately the guarded nature of Chiron’s character doesn’t take away from the romanticism found in Barry Jenkins direction. Adapted from the unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Jenkins puts forward a screenplay that captures an elegance requiring only so much information to set a scene, populated by a fine set of actors making wise choices. The amount of compassion found in some of these characters serves as a fine counter to those choosing to be more aggressive towards Chiron. It results in a story that is seemingly unremarkable from afar, but allows for much more consideration when looking back on what came through in a film not reliant on melodramatic developments.
One must also consider the cinematic value that comes through, thanks to Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton. Sometimes I struggle at seeing adaptations of plays on film due to a level of staginess that distracts from the appropriated medium. One can look at great actors and find something missing when it comes time for them to deliver a monologue or move around very specific locations to play out a scenario. Moonlight is minimal in its presentation, but there is a great level of fluidity to how the camera functions in capturing what we need to see. There is a strong sense of composition that differentiates each period of time we are watching and true value in watching a sense of ease accompany Chiron’s low-key actions.
With a deliberate pace and a tone that suggests something intensely dramatic, saying Moonlight is a joy could come off as a non-starter, but there is true value to a film like this. It pushes aside misnomers of being about a character who is a certain way and asks the viewer to understand just how lonely many humans can be. Make no mistake, despite adolescent pressures, there is no side of this film that wants Chrion to be different, as there is nothing wrong with who he is and the film finds itself at its most relaxed when Chiron is allowed to emotionally reveal himself. Still, what Moonlight achieves with great aplomb is to allow for a great set of performances to engage its audience in a well told story that feels all to true to a universal degree.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Clarity/Detail: Having now watched Moonlight multiple times, there is a lot of great detail that I’ve been able to take in, which speaks well of this superb transfer. For such an understated and non-showy picture, Jenkins and his cinematographer do a tremendous job in capturing an area and allowing for distinction between the three acts. This Blu-ray does very well to showcase a level of clarity that really highlights the areas these characters inhabit, the locations, the costume design and plenty more.
Depth: While the roots of this film may have been meant for the stage, the film’s staging is quite strong and plays well for the dimensionality aspect as far as this Blu-ray is concerned. There is solid spacing to see here, which does enough to provide a good representation of the foreground/background camera movements.
Black Levels: The black levels are very strong and deep. Since actual moonlight plays a heavy role in certain sequences, seeing scenes taking place outdoors allows this Blu-ray to really show off the quality of these levels, with no sign of crush.
Color Reproduction: The different segments have distinct feels, as mentioned, but each work as a good representation of the colors involved. The setting, in general, allows for lots of backgrounds to shine, clothing to pop and other details to really standout, without overwhelming the picture.
Flesh Tones: We get a lot of strong close-ups and that is just fine as far as seeing strong facial textures. Skin tones are natural and warm, allowing for plenty of detail to really shine on this transfer.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Dynamics: This lossless track does a wonderful job of letting an audience hear the film’s wonderful score, the reserved moments of characters speaking and the general atmosphere of the film. Listen to the sounds of water, as characters float in the ocean and get a great sense of how well this track plays on a surround setup. Moonlight provides a strong cinematic experience and that very much applies to the audio track.
Low Frequency Extension: Some soundtrack choices allow for the LFE channel to do what it needs to, in addition to some moments involving certain cars of the characters.
Surround Sound Presentation: This is a front and center-channel focused track, but the film does find enough in the score and ambient elements to fill out the surround element afforded by this solid audio track.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard clearly throughout.
While it would have been nice to get more of a look at the filming of Moonlight and even some Q&As featuring the three actors playing Chiron together, there are some solid EPKs along with a great audio commentary track.
- Audio Commentary with Director Barry Jenkins – This is a strong commentary track from a director clearly enamored with the material and actors he had to work with. A great deal of information is given on this track, largely dealing with the themes and inspiration for the film.
- Ensemble of Emotion: The Making of Moonlight (HD, 21:37) – A solid EPK, featuring many interviews that look at all aspects of the film.
- Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight (HD, 10:06) – An informative look at the design of the film’s soundtrack, which goes into a good amount of detail concerning some ambitious ideas of disassembling certain music tracks and orchestrated efforts.
- Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami (HD, 5:39) – A look at the locations used for filming.
- Trailers (HD)
- Digital HD UltraViolet Copy of the Film
By the time this Blu-ray is out, Moonlight may have a couple of Oscars on its mantle. They would be well-earned as this was one of the best films of 2016 and would even rank high for the decade. It’s a great achievement in many ways and this Blu-ray does proper justice on a technical level. The extras are also worthwhile, making this a solid package all around. If you want a great drama to hold onto, Moonlight is the film to see.