“Moonlight” is revelation. Focusing on lower class black lives in Miami, circa the 1980s and on, it was written and directed by gifted filmmaker Barry Jenkins. There are elements here not seen before onscreen, at least not by a mainstream audience: There’s the crack dealer (a first-rate Mahershala Ali) who is not only a nonstereotypical, real human being, but a much-needed role model and father figure to the troubled young boy at the center of the story. There’s the fact that there are no white faces at all in the world presented here, but the soundtrack, rather than leaning heavily on blues or hip hop or every other musical genre usually associated with black films, is instead stately and melancholic, with a classical feel. There’s the fact that “Moonlight” deals with the struggles of a secretly gay youth as he heads toward manhood in a world that is unforgiving of any “abnormal” sexual persuasion.
I cannot say enough about the three actors who portray the lead character, Chiron: Alex Hibbert as the quiet, watchful, bullied and unhappy child; Ashton Sanders as the quiet, watchful, ultimately violent teenager; Trevante Rhodes as the quiet, watchful, threatening-on-the-outside-but-scared-inside adult. All three young men are mouth-droppingly amazing in creating vivid portraits of the same person and, if there were a way to award an Oscar to three people for one role, this would be the year to do it.
Kudos go, too, to the camera work, the gorgeous sun-drenched colors of Florida, a script that is a poetic looking back and is as true to real life as it is elegiac. Thank you, Barry Jenkins, for a miracle of a film.
“Patriot’s Day” is a whole other kind of movie, a based-on-true-events retelling of the 2013 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt for the two brothers who caused it. If you’re from Boston, it will make you proud of your city, but even those of us from other parts of the country can see the way the challenging aftermath was handled with honor and bravery. Peter Berg (writer/director) has once again partnered with Mark Wahlberg (star/producer) to bring us a fact-based thriller and, for the most part it’s a rip-roaring good one. What “Patriot’s Day” manages to do, and do well, is take a story whose ending we are all familiar with and make it not just suspenseful, but emotionally wrenching. Using the device of letting us get to know some of the characters before that day and then following them through the bombing and its repercussions, we find ourselves enmeshed in their lives and rooting for their survival. There are also keen insights into the bomb planting brothers’ lives, true believers in what they perceive as the American Lie, and the devastation wrought by their vision.
The only jarring note is the composite character played by Mark Wahlberg. His performance is strong but, because of his star status, the script invents a life for him that expands into more fictional scenes than the story supports. The hunt for the perpetrators of the tragedy on Patriots’ Day was a group effort from the start; there was no single “hero” who 1.) Organized the chaos after the bombing, 2.) Made brilliant suggestions to the FBI, which were applauded and followed and 3.) Actually found the younger brother hiding in a boat in someone’s backyard. Yes, it’s a movie and yes, some dramatic license is necessary, but Wahlberg’s character seems out of place in what is otherwise a faithful and thrilling recreation of a day in hell.