Rated 4.0

Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight follows a bullied, painfully shy, gay African-American male named Chiron from tortured boyhood through tortured adolescence and on to tortured young adulthood. The story is divided into three chapters, and each one is titled with one of the protagonist’s various identities—the belittled “Little” as a child, the tentatively self-realizing Chiron as a teenager, and the self-denying criminal “Black” as an adult—to symbolize the various personae he tries on for size throughout his life. The film is short on subtle symbolism but overflowing with empathy and beauty and grace. It’s hard to single out a performance for praise in the film’s terrific ensemble cast, but Mahershala Ali casts an enormous shadow over the film, even though he only appears in the first third. It’s only Jenkins’ second feature, but Moonlight feels more like a hard-earned career-capper rather than the career-igniter that it should become. D.B.