Be prepared to enter the inner city world of Miami and the heartache of blacks growing up amid drugs, poverty, messed up families, the pains in finding one’s sexual identity but also with the human warmth that can become an antidote. Barry Jenkins has directed a film that grows on you as it moves along. He co-wrote the screenplay with Tarell McCraney, author of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” upon which the film is based.
The film is in three sections. We first meet the young boy Chiron, sullenly played by Alex Hibbert, whose expressions indicate the hurt he is enduring beneath the surface. He lives with his drug-addicted mother, Paula, given a wrenching portrayal by Naomie Harris. One day, after being chased by bullying boys, Chiron encounters, Juan, the local drug kingpin played by Mahershala Ali, who is intrigued by Chiron and kindly wants to help and protect him. There are surrogate father bonds, which Paula resents when she encounters Juan. But Juan has influence over Chiron and takes him to the beach, where he teaches him to swim in a father-son type of scene. But once Chiron, deeply hurt by his mother’s addiction, gets Juan to confirm that he sells drugs, he walks out of Juan’s home in disgust.
In the next section Chiron is enacted by Ashton Sanders. Now an adolescent, Chiron still exudes loneliness and is the victim of bullying in scool. He is also feeling his sexual identity, indicating homosexuality, and an episode that he has with a fellow student leaves a psychological imprint. There is a heartbreaking scene in which the boy with whom he has been close is bullied into fighting Chiron. The experience makes Chiron seek revenge, not on his friend, but on the instigator, and after a violent incident we see Chiron arrested.
In part three he has grown into manhood, now in the person of actor Trevante Rhodes, and we see him trying to come to terms with his mother, but more importantly, looking up his former schoolmate, who now works in a diner, and that part of the film emerges as a deeply tender effort of two men to find comfort in one another. I can’t recall another film scene quite like it, and it leaves a feeling of us having come a long way since we first encountered Chiron as that emotionally lost little boy. An A24 release. Reviewed November 29, 2016.