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review by Bobby Blakey

There are so many movies getting a lot of buzz right now due to the Oscar nominations, but this year seems to be a really diverse variety of films. One of the films that has gotten some powerful commentary from day one is Barry Jenkins Moonlight starring Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, and Trevante Rhodes, but does it live up to its powerful hype or is it one that never finds its real voice?

Moonlight follows the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. The structure of this film is interested as it is told in three segments of this boy’s life with three great actors portraying the character. For me I thought the movie was great as a whole, but it only really worked for me in the first two chapters in his younger days. The first segment features a very young boy played great by Alex R. Hibbert. This segment is where you not only obviously learn about him, but see some of the best moments together alongside the always great Mahershala Ali. During this time Hibbert says very little, but you quickly understand the issues he is struggling with all around him and instantly draws you into his emotional turmoil.

In the second chapter we follow Ashton Sanders as he takes his life into the high school days and offers up the most growth and change for the character. So much happens that has the most overall impact in both his life and the story that it is easily the best of the entire film. There are so many moments that he goes through during this time including experimenting, betrayal and an emotional roller coaster that would be sure to send any over the edge. The cap to this segment had me the most invested and amped up seeing where they character finally went with all the built up issues and in turn prepared the audience for his next chapter and ultimate complete change to who we thought we knew. 

The last chapter of the film is where it lost me a bit. It is still good and by no means does it ruin anything you have seen before it, but he is so subdued that I just didn’t get the impact I believe was supposed to be conveyed during this time. The adult version played to perfection by Trevante Rhodes is a whole different direction in this characters life and opposite to what you might expected at that time. This makes for a compelling direction but for me ended up not doing much else for much of this section. I hate sounding like I am bashing the film because that is not my intent, but there was so much strong material through the first two pieces that I was just hoping for more to finish out with. It was pretty clear where it was headed and the ending was exactly what I had expected and wanted, but there was just something else missing there for me.

In the end this is an excellent film, but not one that lived up to the complete hype for me. I would definitely recommend it to others as it should be seen, but there was just something more missing for me and I am just not sure what that was. Maybe my expectations of what the story was going to be and the direction was something else and in turn made me not fully feel it, but either way it is a film that should be seen nonetheless.

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