Moonlight is a coming-of-age film that erases all the cliches of its initial setup, its premise paving the way for an emotionally resonant story told across three time periods. That premise also places us at arm’s length from some of the characters, but any faults in the narrative or in the supporting character development are mostly overshadowed by the intense focus on Chiron’s story. Barry Jenkins has a singular vision here that comes to fruition through Chiron, and the three actors hired to play the part–Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert–all do an excellent job of conveying where the character is at in his life. The rest of the cast members–Naomie Harris and Andre Holland deserve shoutouts–are brilliant as well, and if nothing else, this film is at least a masterful performance piece worthy of appreciation.
Kelly Reichardt’s new film is minimalist by design. Although it features several events that other filmmakers would squeeze every last bit of drama out of, it also features a script that is willing to just quietly observe. All we get are three short stories, loosely connected on plot and thematic levels and devoid of the elaborate intertwining that consumes other stories. It’s refreshing to see a film remain compelling without reliance on some grand ending statement, and though it runs into a few problems in a middling middle section, the final section is a gorgeous way to close it all out. It’s the strongest of the three by far, and Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone deliver two of the year’s best performances.
The Accountant seems like the type of movie that never got out of the script-pitching phase. There are a multitude of different threads that pop up throughout, but since none of them get enough breathing time, the end product is a jumbled mess with a severe lack of focus. Many films can certainly handle multiple narrative threads, but this is one case where you end up trying to make sense of what it is you’re supposed to care about. Is it an action film? Sort of. Is it a romance? Sort of. Is it a movie about Asperger’s? Sort of. Is it an utter waste of a talented cast? Absolutely.
The quintessential image of this film is the one splashed across the posters: Sasha Lane’s Star standing up during a drive, the wind blowing in her hair as she raises an arm and stares off at the surrounding blue sky. Shot from below, she towers above the world, momentarily escaping from a world of pain and hardship as she embraces the transient freedom she’s trying to hold onto. It’s a beautifully cathartic shot that expresses the heart and soul of the film, pulsating music accompanying it as we ride along with a woman figuring out how to navigate the trials and tribulations of life.
I have no problem believing that Nate Parker poured his heart and soul into this project. I have no problem believing that he wanted to make an important film with a visceral emotional impact. What I do have a little trouble believing, though, is that he was allowed to make such a high profile film using such amateurish filmmaking techniques. The narrative is flimsy, the editing is something out of a “How Not to Edit” handbook, and the extremely obvious symbolism is constantly screaming to get your attention. I know it’s not the reaction you want from the audience, Nate, but your film is exactly what makes eye-rolling ability useful.
“It’s time to finally take back control. Real control.”
Just like that, reality hits. This entire season has revolved around the question of what’s real, around the blurred lines between the mind and the surrounding world. While it has definitely run into some roadblocks of its own making as a result, this series always has the ability to deliver striking images even in its weakest plots. It all comes to a head in this finale, a simultaneously frustrating and fascinating hour of television that ends with a brutal wake-up call. It’s cruel that Elliot’s perceived moment of true control ends the way it does, but it fits with the nihilistic foundation that the show is built upon. Try to live in an illusion all you want, and reality will still shatter the glass you’re holding up around you. Try to take control, and you’ll be sucked up into an illusion. It’s a vicious cycle.