Loving

 photo loving_zps8mwdubkg.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt almost sounds like a poetic fabrication that the last name of Mildred and Richard was Loving.  The name also serves as the film’s title. The appellation would seem a bit too precious if it weren’t simply a fact. Adding to the irony of the situation is that “one of the most iconic ad campaigns of the past 50 years” is the tourism slogan: “Virginia is for Lovers.” It wasn’t always this way. It’s probably hard for a contemporary audience to fathom, but in 1958, 24 states, Virginia among them, had what were known as anti-miscegenation laws strictly prohibiting black–white intermarriage. Until the Loving’s case in 1967, it was illegal for interracial couples to marry in some states. (Side note: the last law officially outlawing interracial marriage was repealed in Alabama in 2000.)

On July 11, 1958, newlyweds Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga ) are in their bedroom asleep when armed police officers enter their house led by Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas). The two are forcibly removed from their home and thrown into jail. Their crime? They are of different races and have gotten married. 5 weeks prior the devoted couple had decided to wed upon learning that Mildred was pregnant, Thanks to something called Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, the pair had journeyed to Washington, D.C. where they were able to get married without issue.

Back in Virginia they are brought before a judge and plead guilty. In exchange for their plea, they are sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence being suspended for 25 years on condition that they leave the state. They comply and move to the District of Columbia to raise their children apart from their families who still live in Virginia. Frustrated by these restrictions, Mildred Loving writes a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. This starts a chain of events that affirms their rights have been violated as set forth by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At its core, Loving is a production constructed around Loving v. Virginia, the landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Yet Loving subverts expectations. Rather than presenting a courtroom drama in which arguments from both sides are presented, the chronicle is brilliantly fashioned around the life of Richard and Mildred Loving. This isn’t intended as a strident issue-based sermon. It’s a gentle portrait of two people deeply committed to one another.

Director Jeff Nichols’ biggest success up until now has been the coming-of-age tale Mud, a fable that got its official release in 2013. A civil rights piece like Loving might not seem like the most logical subject for the helmer of Take Shelter and Midnight Special, but it is his most obvious bid for mainstream recognition.   The subject turns out to be a nice fit.  It would have been very easy to allow the inherent soap opera of the happenings to descend into melodrama. Instead, writer/director Nichols allows the circumstances to speak for themselves. He sidesteps explicit commentary from the principal actors. This allows the weight of the composition to unfold honestly. Adam Stone’s gorgeous cinematography and David Wingo’s luscious score only underscore these truths.

At the core of Loving are two performances that are flawlessly executed. Joel Edgerton as Richard is not the civil crusader you might expect. He’s strong but quiet, almost stoic, a man who is ill-at-ease with the prospect of becoming famous. Yet his affection for his wife remains his strongest weapon. His late-in-the-film declaration brought tears to my eyes. In contrast, Ruth Negga as Mildred is the one who starts things in motion. She too is a reserved, almost mousy woman who appears to softly defer to her husband one moment but then takes charge of the situation the next. A phone call from Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), the ACLU lawyer assigned to their case, shows her at first hesitant and then decisive. Ruth is emboldened by the chance to better her family’s life. An ordinary woman driven to do extraordinary things. In fact, the duo shows such restraint that their lack of ferocity can be a bit surprising. These two are the least revolutionary types you could possibly imagine and yet their actions changed the fabric of the nation. That’s kind of inspiring. It gives hope to the masses because it means anyone can make a difference. The emotion is intimate and the humanity present within their circumstances becomes more palpable. Sometimes a revolution doesn’t start with a bang.

10-30-16

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16 Responses to “Loving”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Awesome review. I love Jeff Nichols so I am very excited to see this movie as soon as it comes near me. It looks very emotional and moving.

  2. I’ve been waiting for this Jeff Nichols film. I’m glad you approved and look forward to catching this one. Joel Edgerton has never disappointed me and I can’t wait to see Ruth Negga on the screen. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it was an Oscar contender.

    • Historically it’s been almost impossible to predict how the Oscar race will ultimately land, but nominations for Picture, Actress and Actor would seem like a safe bet.

  3. More great news. I have been looking forward to this for awhile. Jeff Nichols seemingly can do no wrong.

  4. Nichols is one of my favorite directors and he has such a striking sensibility rooted in where he comes from (Arkansas). He hasn’t made a bad film yet.

  5. Better than I expected. I thought it would be the typical court case back and forth drama. I was happy that the focus was two characters. I felt emotionally connected to them, and was very satisfied. 4 stars.

  6. Sensational review Mark. I really want to see this film as it sounds like a really inspiring one, done with subtlety.

    • This was released to just 4 theaters on November 4th (LA & NY first) and has slowly spread over the subsequent weeks. You have to search for this movie though. It’s still only playing in less than 600 theaters across the nation.

      I really wish this would expand and get the wide release (2,000+ theaters) it truly deserves.

  7. I appreciate that Loving is a gentle portrait of two people deeply committed to each other, but I think that more emphasis should have been put on the court case. I think seeing the arguments would have made the movie much more engaging. To me it came across as a very matter-of-fact production where the drama was rather flat. I agree with you though that the two lead performances are flawlessly executed. Negga is especially astounding, as you watch her character grow over the course of the film from a soft spoken woman into a confident crusader.

    • I’ve seen that “courtroom drama” approach before and seen it done well. I found Loving innovative for the way it tackled this subject and I appreciated that originality.

      Agree with Ruth Negga’s performance and happy to see it was recognized by an Oscar nom.

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