Films in Review: Moonlight, Lion, The Great Wall

Moonlight

Moonlight

CT Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Barry Jenkins’ sophomore feature is worthy of every word of the praise it is getting. A bildungsroman with a difference, it charts the life of Chiron – a young, gay black man – through three distinct stages as he struggles to deal with senseless school bullying and his mother’s debilitating drug addiction while trying to come to terms with his burgeoning sexuality. Bursting with standout performances, including a scene stealing turn from Mahershala Ali and a career-best from Naomie Harris, Moonlight is a nuanced, thoughtful and – ultimately – heart-wrenching depiction of youth, love and loneliness. It is admittedly an uncomfortable watch – just because it feels so real. Just like fellow Best Picture nominee Manchester by the Sea the film is effective because, in all likelihood, the subject matter and problems that it deals with haunt real life people every single day. Moonlight feels like an important film that will hopefully act as a watershed for the black homosexual community and remind them that they are never alone.

Lion

CT Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Based on Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction book A Long Way Home, Garth Davis’ directorial debut is an accomplished – although occasionally choppy – tale about the importance of family and a child’s innate yearning for home. Audiences follow the story of young Indian boy Saroo who, after being separated from his family, winds up being adopted by foster parents in Australia. His subsequent quest to find track down his relatives forms the backbone of the picture, which is propped up with stellar performances from its cast. Saroo is vividly brought to life, first by newcomer Sunny Pawar and later by Dev Patel, while Nicole Kidman is impressively understated as his adoptive mother. Plaudits must be given to Davis and his team for setting the first third of the film in India, with the vast majority of the dialogue in the native language. The safe option would have been for them to depict Saroo’s childhood through a series of flashbacks and thus introduce their A-list actors from the beginning. Their decision to hold off, however, is brave and benefits the film greatly, as the alien setting and foreign tongue help the audience to share in the young boy’s helplessness throughout the powerful opening section. While the script does leave a handful of loose ends by its finish, the filmmakers manage to successfully avoid clichés for the most part, helping to make this a thoroughly engaging adaptation of an even more powerful true story.

The Great Wall

CT Rating: 2 stars out of 5

For months leading up to its release The Great Wall has drawn ire over its choice of lead actor, with the white face of Boston-born Matt Damon cast as the only person who can defend China from fleet of supernatural enemies. Spurring claims of whitewashing and accusations that director Zhang Yimou is pandering to Western audiences by embracing the stereotypical white saviour narrative. While these fears prove to be largely unfounded, this film may be destined to draw ire of a different nature. Along with the aforementioned foes The Great Wall is plagued with poor CGI, bland characters and a number of blatant plot holes as well as wooden performances from its large cast, with Damon and Willem Dafoe chief offenders. For the amount of talent involved here (plus the generous budget to play with) this wannabe monster epic proves to be a monstrous disappointment. It earns points for unintentional hilarity, it’s near impossible not to laugh at more than one instance of staggering stupidity. But overall The Great Wall is a bland, uninventive effort that won’t live long in your memory once the credits have finished rolling, if you managed to last that long.

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David Deignan  |   Film & TV Editor

 

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