WHAT I LIKED: It seemed unlikely that Barry Jenkins would top the mastery of Moonlight in his next effort, but 'If Beale Street Could Talk,' miraculously sees him do just that with an epic, sweeping, tragedy-ridden romance that packs an even greater emotional punch than before. Indeed whilst Moonlight was a highly sensual and gentle film that used small moments to paint an all-consuming picture of a single character, this film uses that smart approach to very directly broadcast the tragedy of a young black couple who exasperatingly fall victim to the power of the white establishment when boyfriend Fonny ends up in jail for a crime he didn't commit. It's a powerful narrative that naturally packs a huge punch, but the reason the film makes you feel so angry and upset about it all is that the story is told so effectively.
We jump in fairly near the start of Fonny's imprisonment and then see the pair's relationship develop through flashbacks, and this gives every sweet moment an inevitability and a bitterness that tugs at your heart strings. You care about the couple because the two characters are built so well - partly by two outstanding central performances from Kiki Layne and Stephan James who share genuine chemistry, but also by the fact that Jenkins again shows us their blossoming romance and their eventual predicament through small moments such as looking at a house together, breaking news to their respective families, and Fonny's first terrifying meeting with a Police officer.
This is also added to by the fact we get a brilliantly tangible sense of the characters' surrounding environments with James Laxton's stunning cinematography capturing a perfectly-construed 70s New York and Nicholas Britell's gut-wrenching, bittersweet score perfectly accompanyiny every moment - from scenes in streets to living rooms.
Ultimately that reliance on the moment means we get to see everything we need to know about the central pair and the problems they face as a result of their race very clearly without it being discussed directly in the script, and when those moments are executed so perfectly, the result is utterly profound. It's the mark of a truly masterful filmmaker when they have confidence that their scenes can tell the story for themselves, and the fact that these moments tell such a powerful, important story here makes the film an absolute masterpiece in my eyes. This is easily the best film of 2019 so far, and I for one can't wait to see what Jenkins does next.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: There's ONE single moment in the film where the essence of the plot is explained to us, and that feels jarring when everything else is told so much more eloquently.
VERDICT: A film that sees Barry Jenkins apply his ability to make perfectly-executed small moments tell a big story to an extremely powerful and important narrative, 'If Beale Street Could Talk' arguably hits even harder than Moonlight, and is undoubtedly the best film of 2019 in my eyes.