Sunday, November 6, 2016

Review: Loving

Image courtesy of Focus Features.
Jeff Nichols's "Loving" is a film that is likely to make audience members angry or emotional, but it goes about it in a quiet way. It's a film about a landmark Supreme Court case that brought some justice to the discriminated, but you don't see any rousing speeches before a jury in the picture.

Nichols has long been a filmmaker on the rise, from his low-key debut "Shotgun Stories" to his remarkable "Take Shelter," the Southern coming of age crime story "Mud" and moody sci-fi thriller "Midnight Special," which was released earlier this year. "Loving" is a powerful, but restrained, love story that features two solid performances by its leads and a measured pace that rewards viewers with patience.

As the film opens, we meet Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who keep their romance mostly on the down low in Virginia circa 1958. But when Mildred finds out she is pregnant, the couple travels to Washington D.C., where they are married, but are arrested shortly after returning to their home state after the local authorities find out that they are living together.

After several run-ins with the law, the Lovings are given a choice by the court: serve jail time or leave the state. They choose the latter and, for a number of years, raise their children in D.C. until Mildred, watching Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington on TV, one day determines that she's had enough. The couple moves back to Virginia and - with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and a lawyer, Bernard Cohen - they take their case to the highest court.

As I mentioned before, in the hands of a different filmmaker this material could lead to an abundance of emotional scenes, courtroom battles and high drama. Instead, Nichols's film observes the daily lives of the Lovings - Richard's construction work, Mildred watching over her children and the couple's parents who appear resigned to Richard and Mildred's difficult lives. In fact, the film's most pivotal moment is conveyed through a quiet phone conversation in which we can only hear one of the two people talking.

Edgerton gives a solid, restrained performance as Richard Loving, a quiet man who is obviously uncomfortable with the attention lavished on him due to his high profile court case and Ruth Negga gives a powerful breakthrough performance as Mildred, who sees the case as not only affecting her family, but one that could relieve the pain of many others. And Nichols regular Michael Shannon pops up in a nice scene during which he - playing Time Magazine photographer GreyVillet - takes the iconic photo of the Lovings sitting on their couch, watching TV and laughing.

"Loving" is a well-told story of a significant moment in U.S. history that focuses less on the politics or the atmosphere of the era, but rather zooms in on the lives of the two characters at its center. It's a quietly absorbing film about two people who made an indelible mark on our nation by simply daring to love.

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