Friday 17 February 2017 3:03 pm

Moonlight film review: If La La Land wasn’t released this year, this is the film everyone would have been talking about

Dir. Barry Jenkins

Had La La Land waited until next year to charm the world, there’s every chance Moonlight would be the film everyone is talking about at next Sunday’s Oscars. Spanning several years, we look at three phases in the life of quiet Miami kid Chiron as his home life, sexuality and surroundings threaten to derail his future.

Foregoing the placard-waving of many awards movies, Barry Jenkins doesn’t try to ram a message down your throat. Don’t let the understated tone fool you, however – this is a pointed dissection of modern America. We see Chiron’s life being moulded by forces beyond his control, events presented matter-of-factly.

The characters may speak in mumbles, but the dialogue is nothing short of poetic. The rare moments when Chiron reveals his pain are heartbreaking, typical of how Jenkins slowly draws you to the edge of your seat. While it’s every bit an ensemble piece, there are standouts. In the role of Chiron’s father figure Juan, Mahershala Ali is as good as his Oscar nomination suggests.

He’s not on screen for long, but leaves a lasting impression. Bond actress Naomi Harris may be even better as his mother, a manipulative, desperate drug addict. The three young actors playing Chiron share similar qualities that make the final act utterly compelling, each getting their own moment than reveals the world inside their head. Much of the drama happens around them, but they reflect their environments superbly.

Ending as enigmatically as it begins, Moonlight is a film about the lives that slip between the cracks. It’s unmissable.