From the ridiculous to the sublime; I know, cliché. Having watched Keanu Reeves's increasingly untenable act of bullshit in John Wick 2, I grabbed the student-friendly, £5 Monday offer at the Cameo and watched Moonlight, a film that's gotten five-star reviews with everyone. A recipe for disappointment?
It's not a film of special effects. The plot is linear. The cast is outstanding; apart from the three actors playing the lead role, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae especially are wonderful as a kind of surrogate family for the protagonist, Chiron, over the three stages of his life. Ali sits by the small-boy version of Chiron by the sea and they have a great, minimal talk about identity and making your own way in life. Third-stage Chiron, now muscle-bound loner in his mid-twenties, a drug dealer of few words and lots of gold, is perhaps the most intriguing, grown up with his inner-nature closed behind a wall of abdominal muscles and gold teeth.
It is the first and third acts that I found especially moving, from the small boy who is equally hesitant about opening up to people, unable to work out why he's so different to everyone else, and then as a silent tough guy, living alone.
It was the third act, in fact the final scene, when I felt my own tears. Chiron meets up again with the one guy he's been intimate with, from his adolescence. They've decided on a catch-up after ten years or so of nothing, the one now a restaurant owner, and Chiron, unexpectedly, of the hood. They tentatively, suspiciously try and work each other out, and if what they had briefly has gone forever. The very last scenes, when Chiron speaks, are special, tender.
What else to say? It's easy to write about the bad films – it's fun to write about the bad films and wonder how writers, directors, producers and actors didn't think to speak up and say that it doesn't make sense. Bad films make you think and reflect, almost as soon as you start watching them.But with films like Moonlight, it's not the depth or some intellectual insight that you get, I think that's the mistake you can make when you think about watching serious masterpieces. Instead, it's that sensation of stumbling away from the cinema and into the night, unable to speak or even think, just the images and emotions that have carried you, which have swept you into the movie's emotions so that you barely know where you are, like young-boy Chiron swimming and floating in the waves.