Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins has created one of the best films of the year with the beguiling If Beale Street Could Talk. The film is powerful viewing.

In 1970s Harlem, Tish and Fonny are in love. When Fonny is accused of a crime, Tish and her family do their best to prove his innocence…

Barry Jenkins exhibits his mastery as a filmmaker with If Beale Street Could Talk. An adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, the film tells the story of Tish and Fonny. Despite being set in the 1970s, the film feels as relevant as ever. 

There is so much to be in awe of in If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins’ attention to detail is superb. His storytelling is absolutely enchanting. The narrative begins in the middle, before telling the love story through a series of flashbacks interspersed with present day scenes. Jenkins let the relationship unfold in a careful and natural manner, letting viewers fall in love with the characters as they themselves fall in love. 

Despite the age of the source material, the film is incredibly resonant today. The themes of persecution of minorities, police brutality, discrimination are all present. Jenkins deals with these themes sensitively, yet does not shy away from frankness. The conversation between Fonny and Daniel is one of most powerful moments in If Beale Street Could Talk. It really gets to the bones of issue; the trauma feels real. Elsewhere the show of solidarity from the landlord is an incredibly moving scene. 

Jenkins frames characters in such a beautiful way. The cinematography by James Laxton is wonderful. There are several beautiful shots, such as the close up of Fonny on the phone delivering his moving monologue. The camera is fluid in other situations, sweeping the viewers into the action. The use of colour and lighting charms. The score works very well; it is distinct from the diegetic music, but beautifully sets the mood. 

Performances are flawless all round. Kiki Layne and Stephan James are superb. Layne’s quietness is perfect, while James is so expressive. Regina King finally gets a role with real meat; she is wonderful. Colman Domingo is also great.

If Beale Street Could Talk shows Moonlight was no fluke. Barry Jenkins is one of the best directors working today.

If Beale Street Could Talk is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: Moonlight

Moonlight

Moonlight is a wonderfully absorbing character study from Barry Jenkins. The film is a profusion of taut emotion, which bubbles over in a delectable way.

Chiron is a young boy growing up in a tough Miami neighbourhood. As a teenager, he is isolated from his peers. As a man, he struggles to deal with his feelings and the perception of who he should be…

Director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins has created something special with Moonlight. Based on Tarell McCraney’s play, the film is a coming of age story from a fresh perspective. The film is important because it depicts the type of protagonist not often seen in mainstream cinema.

Moonlight is a three-part production, taking place in different eras of the protagonist’s life. It is the story of a boy becoming a man in a less than perfect environment. The film combines two major aspects; black masculinity and homosexuality. As such, the protagonist faces lengthy struggle in trying to live up to expectations of what a black male in Miami should be, whilst internalising romantic feelings which contradict these expectations.

Characters in the film are drawn in a natural and engaging fashion. Moonlight charts Chiron’s journey, and the character is depicted in a empathetic way. Similarly, the supporting characters are portrayed with enough depth. The relationship between Chiron and Kevin is lovingly depicted. There is an emotional vein than runs throughout the film. Viewers will sympathise and root for the protagonist as he tries to defy the odds.

Jenkins’ direction is strong throughout. He shoots the film with an appealing energy. This is clear from the frenetic camera movement at the beginning. James Laxton’s cinematography in the film is excellent; composition and colour are used in a potent manner. Casting in the film is also wonderful. Ashton Sanders is great as the teenaged Chiron, as are Alex Hibbert and Trevante Rhodes as the child and adult protagonist, respectively. Mahershala Ali, Jenelle Monae, and Naomie Harris provide good support.

In a different pair of hands, the film could have been a trite concoction of stereotypes and cliché. Jenkins shows he is a force to be reckoned with with the magnificent Moonlight.

Moonlight is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.