TIFF Review: 'If Beale Street Could Talk' Is Another Triumph For Barry Jenkins

Directed by Barry Jenkins

Starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King

BY Matt BobkinPublished Sep 9, 2018

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is about to break our hearts all over again with another gripping tale of black love. Adapting James Baldwin's novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk charts the relationship of Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James), lovers torn apart by a racist cop, putting an innocent Hunt in prison while Rivers deals with her pregnancy.
In the age of Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump's presidency, Baldwin's 1974 novel is as relevant as ever, and Jenkins stays faithful to the source material for another resonant, powerful entry to his strong body of work, furthering his reputation as one of modern cinema's most vital directors. Hopping around before and during Hunt's incarceration, Layne and James are the film's anchors, with their stellar performances, running the gamut from doe-eyed love to soul-crushing heartbreak.
As devastating as the film's subject matter is, there's a powerful undercurrent of hope, tenderly conveyed in all aspects of the film, from the stellar cast's performances to the cinematography to the score. Fresh off Moonlight's historic best picture Oscar, Jenkins has reunited with cinematographer James Laxton and score composer Nicholas Britell. Laxton takes a similar head-on, slow-burning approach that again finds the characters staring deep into the audiences' souls, but swaps out Moonlight's oceanic blues and greens for an oaky brown palette. Britell's score augments the warmth with rich, sweeping strings.
On all fronts, If Beale Street Could Talk is a triumph, carrying its tragic weight with poise and assuredness. It's a heartbreaking look at an all-too-real phenomenon that looks deeply, deeply inward to find a lot of joy. It's an emotionally complex, culturally relevant film that is bound to resonate.

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