2016, PG-13, 123 mins.
Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving / Joel Edgerton as Richard Loving / Will Dalton as Virgil / Michael Shannon as Grey Villet / Alano Miller as Raymond Green / Marton Csokas as Sheriff Brooks / Sharon Blackwood as Lola Loving / Nick Kroll as Bernie Cohen / Bill Camp as Frank Beazley
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
LOVING is a fact based historical drama that's done with an abundant amount of masterful tact, restraint, and filmmaking economy.
It achieves an
intimacy with its subject matter that's refreshingly atypical for these
types of genre efforts, which is of no surprise whatsoever seeing as it's
from writer/director Jeff Nichols, who's on a remarkably strong and
assured creative streak as of late that hasn't shown any sign of dying
down anytime soon. He's
developed a reputation for his nonchalant style that places acute emphasis
on his actors in films like TAKE SHELTER,
MUD, and even this year's criminally
overlooked science fiction tale MIDNIGHT
disciplined less-is-more hands can also be seen on exemplary display in
LOVING, which is arguably his most poignant and carefully modulated human
story that he's tackled yet.
LOVING refers to
both people and a landmark Supreme Court case.
Richard and Mildred Loving were an interracially married couple in
Virginia in the late 1950's, which was a definite societal no-no
considering the state's backwards minded and bigoted anti-miscegenation
laws that forbad such mixed race unions.
Their marriage was discovered, which led to their prompt arrest and
near imprisonment. A plea
bargain on their part kept them out of long term incarceration, but the
trade off was that they were forced to leave Virginia - and their friends
and family - and never return to the state for a quarter of a century.
News of their hardships made it to some rather intrepid ACLU lawyers,
who were bound and determined to take their case forward to the highest
court in the land. Their 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia led to the
abolishment of a state's right to prohibit marriage based on race.
all race based marriage restrictions in the U.S. going forward.
Nichols' film is,
yes, about this extraordinarily important piece of civil rights
legislation that fundamentally changed America, but it's just a cursory
element here. LOVING never
falls victim to the pratfalls of historical biopics or courtroom
procedurals. The actual
Supreme Court case is presented in a rather hushed and subdued manner
that's placed in the background of the story.
Instead, and more compellingly, LOVING is about the Lovings
themselves and their trials and tribulations of daring to love one another
without any fear of consequence during a relative age when there were
severe consequences and penalties for doing so.
Lesser films about these people would have followed in formulaic
troupes and, worse yet, could have come off a distractingly preachy, but
Nichols has none of that. He's
not trying to create a piece of beyond-obvious Oscar bait, nor is he
trying to paint the film with shamefully manipulative melodrama.
LOVING is a simple drama about simple people told with a simple
filmmaking aesthetic that just happens to be about large scale cautionary
tale that speaks towards its times...and about ours as well.
viewers with an evocative immediacy right into its story from the very beginning.
Nichols doesn't waste any time with needless exposition, nor is he
interested in exploring the relationship history of how Richard (Joel
Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) came to meet and fall in love.
The film has a tremendously effective opening scene with the couple
enjoying their company on a porch. It's
1958 and Ruth has let her husband-to-be know that she's pregnant with
their first child. Obviously,
emotions run euphorically high and Richard seems as elated as any man
would be with such news, even though both fully realize the
social/cultural severity of bringing a mixed race baby into the world.
Scenes like this - and many more - in the film have such a low key veracity.
Edgerton and Negga create a fully authentic period couple here
within the first few minutes of the film; they communicate not with
laborious dialogue exchanges, but with knowing glances, body language, and
other non verbal cues that real couples use as a form of instant communication.
Mildred are nurtured
and supported by their respective families, but the enormity of keeping their
union - and Mildred's pregnancy - a tightly guarded secret weighs heavily
on them. During their
aforementioned and initial arrest they're treated like petty criminals
and the Virginian lawmakers are hell bent on making an example of them.
Essentially banished, Richard and Mildred are forced to relocate
to the more racially tolerable Washington, D.C., but the emotional strain
on being far away from their loved ones begins to overrule their happiness
as a couple. Even though they
live relative happy and fruitful lives and have three children,
Richard and Mildred still rightfully feel burned by their state's
treatment. At the insistence
of her sister, Mildred writes to Robert Kennedy about her whole ordeal, and
when this trickles down to the ACLU...the rest is history, but not
without an inordinately tough series of legal challenges that threatened to
couple with imprisonment and separation from their children.
takes a finely modulated approach here to the underlining material.
His directorial style never draws needless attention to itself,
which is arguably why he frequently gets overlooked at awards season.
He not only harnesses the film's sense of cultural unease and
turmoil that typified the period in question with exactitude, but he also creates a fully
realized portrait of two human beings that cared about each other so much
that they would risk their very livelihoods to see that justice was
ultimate done. LOVING is a
richly tactile film in the sense that the people that populate it don't carry
a lot of dramatic baggage that less inspired scripts would, no doubt, be quality
of. Everyone and everything has a stark lived in look and feel.
The way characters matter of factly interact with each other, the
way the film has a painterly eye with the lush and harsh beauty of the
rural American South, and the way that Richard and Mildred carry
themselves forward with a no-nonsense conviction and perseverance of
spirit helps to make LOVING feel
like a fly-on-the-wall documentary that respects the characters as much as
the audience's patience to observe them.
There's nothing unnecessarily flashy about Nichols' approach here; all the narrative and dramatic fat
that would still be left on other similar films of this sort is trimmed
away here, which makes LOVING feels so considerately rendered and
by the lead actors compliments Nichols' predilection for a less-is-more
sense of scope and scale. Joel
Edgerton is such a fly-in-under-the-radar chameleon as an actor that he
often never gets the type of critical recognition that he deserves.
It's amazing how very little Richard says in LOVING, but
Edgerton fully immerses himself in this gruff, monosyllabic, but deeply
caring and honor bound man that will stand by his spouse no matter what
the cause. He makes you feel
the weight of his burdensome situation without coming out to tell you with
potentially hackneyed dialogue. Ruth
Negga is just as quietly powerful and Mildred, who displays a lifetime of
frustration and sadness just with her soulful eyes alone.
Very few performances as of late have been so richly complex and
reserved at the same time. Mildred
becomes a real hero in LOVING in the sense that she goes on a journey from
being an immensely shy and guarded woman to becoming a self actualized
cauldron of change. There isn't an instance of false sentiment in Negga's
exquisite performance. Like
Edgerton, she exists in the moment with an enveloping naturalism that
gives the film such a sense of staggering urgency.
Negga have a routinely fine group of supporting actors complimenting their
cause, and it wouldn't be a Jeff Nichols film without his good luck charm
Michael Shannon (who has appeared in all of his previous films) making a
cameo, this time as a quirky Life Magazine photographer that's assigned to
the Lovings to chronicle a day in their lives (he provides some needed
levity in the film amidst its pathos).
Thankfully, LOVING never feels exploitative with its subjects, nor
is it trying to be another in an awfully long line of prosaically
engineered real life courtroom dramas.
Nichols seems more vested in inspecting the human side of a
monumentally significant court case and battle for marriage equality.
It covers a lot of ground and time (refreshingly, Nichols never
uses bland title cards like "Five Years Later" to embellish the
transitions, as he lets carefully orchestrated montages inform us of such
time shifts). Of course, the
Loving v. Virginia case was indeed a groundbreaking and important Supreme
Court enabled legislation, but LOVING never feels like a dry history class
lecture about its events. It's
a film that makes us feel like we inhabited the headspaces of those most
deeply effected by these key moments in history, something that far too
many school textbooks - and many films, for that matter - fail at.
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