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A young man struggles to find himself across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love, while grappling with his own sexuality. (From A24’s official synopsis)

 Moonlight
I’ve done an especially bad job of keeping up with the big award season favourites this past year, to the point that I don’t actually know what the majority of the ten Best Picture Oscars are even about. Moonlight has remained an especially enticing subject, because the bulk of the press surrounding its release boiled down to brief, vague descriptions of the films ‘transcendent’ greatness. Of course, such broad, bleary-eyed statements should probably be taken as hyperbole, but, as someone that places perhaps too much importance on filmmaking, it’s difficult not to be swept up in the hype. I imagine the Best Picture win last night will leave casual film-goers in the same boat. Hype aside, I wrote up this review quickly after watching the film for the sake of meeting my deadline. Because it is a sentimentally complex film – one that presents a rather open-ended version of a particularly subjective story – I’m not quite prepared to delve headlong into its successes and shortcomings. This will be a relatively brief review.

Jenkins’ screenplay, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. It’s easy to see the play’s staged structure within the film – especially in terms of the limited cast,  limited locations, and the tight three-act structure – but the basis doesn’t bind the director’s most cinematic impulses. The intimacy of the compositions  is touching, of course, but also implies emotional subtexts and meanings that are not implicit in the terse dialogue. Moonlight is visceral in a way that theatrical plays can rarely express, given the distance from audience to the performers and the static nature of the stage. As a director, Jenkins creates a breathing world, utilizes a smooth, intimate style that, besides being particularly attractive, supports the story’s consistent sense of anguish. Moonlight’s most basic ideas are broad and common – the perils of drug addiction, the hardships of finding one’s self, the horrors of adolescence, the heartbreak of unrequited love, et cetera – to the point that other, more critical eyes might consider it a simple variation on the all-too-common coming of age story. And that’s a fair assessment, I suppose, but, personally, as of this moment, I can’t think of another recent coming of age story or a love story told this with this much clarity, dexterity, and purpose.

 Moonlight

Video


Moonlight was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented on this Blu-ray in 1080p, 2.40:1 video. According to Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton, Alexas were chosen for “better rendered skin tone” and the fact that the digital intermediate footage could be altered in post to represent various types of film stock. The three chapters of Chiron’s life are divided by colour-timing/grading from colorist Alex Bickel. The first part is meant to emulate Fuji stock, which is warm with rich natural tones. These scenes have plenty of detail, but are also meant to appear soft and the Blu-ray does a good job of reproducing smooth gradations and anamorphic lens artefacts (without obvious compression blocking. The second part was altered to look like Agfa-Gevaert stock and is the most obviously graded, including a cyan tint and more intense contrast. These scenes are also relatively soft, but the bleached whites and more complex colour quality is impressive and busy. The final part was modified to appear like traditional Kodak stock to produce a ‘poppy’ and darker overall image with a brownish hue. The darkness here is sometimes a bit overwhelming, to the point that it dulls some of the detail, which I assume is a slight shortcoming on the part of the transfer (2/4K theatrical releases were likely a bit clearer). Black levels are more consistent, however, as the heavy colour grading used during the first two parts tends to bleed into shadows, and the overall texture is incredibly tight. (See this Indiewire.com story for some pre and post grading comparison images.)

Audio


Moonlight is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. There aren’t a whole lot of wide-ranging directional effects, but the mix does use a lot of subjective sound to expand the volume and depth of otherwise natural noises (subjective as in the audience’s point-of-view, more than the characters’). Despite the solid dynamic reach and bass depth, the track is at its most compelling when it’s layering environmental ambience in place of dialogue. What words are spoken (at some points dialogue is completely drained in order to press the intensity of certain emotions) are well-centered and blended in among the sound effects without any notable problems. Whiplash (2014) producer Nicholas Britell’s chamber music-styled score is accompanied by a plethora of pertinent, period-appropriate music to set a bittersweet and nostalgic mood.

 Moonlight

Extras


  • Commentary with director Barry Jenkins – Jenkins speaks warmly and personably as he guides the audience through the making of the movie, including screen-specific descriptions of performances, style, and locations, as well as an ongoing analysis of the production, music, and behind-the-scenes story. He speaks without any particularly long pauses over the entire runtime, though he does tend to run low on information towards the end of each section.
  • Ensemble of Emotion: The Making of Moonlight (21:37, HD) – A well-made and informative EPK featurette that tracks the making of the film, from McCraney’s play, to Jenkins adaptation, casting, characters, and themes.
  • Poetry Through Collaboration: The Music of Moonlight (10:06, HD) – Nicholas Britell and Jenkins discuss the movie’s score.
  • Cruel Beauty: Filming in Miami (5:39, HD) – A quick look at the meaning and use of the film’s locations.
  • Trailers for other Lionsgate releases


 Moonlight

Overall


Moonlight is at once familiar and utterly unique. It manages to breakdown the complexities of a lifetime into three distinct parts without skipping any vital connective narrative tissue or character-building components and conveys emotional intricacies with stunningly modesty. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray does a nice job recreating the ‘mixed media’ look of the photography, features a strong, subtle DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and includes a fair number of extras – specifically the solid director’s commentary.

 Moonlight

 Moonlight

 Moonlight

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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