“Loving” Movie Review


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     Writer/director Jeff Nichols had already made his mark in 2016 with the critically well received science fiction thriller “Midnight Special”, and succeeds again with “Loving”, a probable awards darling documenting the true story of Virginia residents Richard and Mildred Loving and their struggle as an interracial couple in the late 1950s.  Powered by a thoughtful and emotional script by Nichols, “Loving” features solid performances by Ruth Negga (“World War Z”) and Joel Edgerton (“Black Mass”) as the Lovings with both actors bringing a quiet and heartwarming presence to a situation which seems as relevant today as it does the time depicted on screen.  And while some may find the pacing of Nichols’ film to be slow developing, the time is well spent in scenes designed to give the audience a look at the multiple layers each character possesses, highlighting not only their emotions, but also their habits, personalities, and motivations. 

     Perhaps the most resounding metaphor within the story is the fact Richard (Edgerton) is a brick mason by trade and spends long hours building cinder block walls for homes and businesses.  Nichols focuses on each and every block Richard cements in place, as if to communicate to the audience his story is about change that takes place one grueling step at a time.  Richard is a simple man who works hard each day and takes pride in both his job, as well as providing for his family.  He lives with his girlfriend, Mildred (Negga), and her family most of the time, functioning within the group as the lone white person in an African-American household.  But it’s clear from the opening frame Richard does not see color, instead focusing on his love for Mildred and the dream of one day being married and starting a family.

     In the time period “Loving” takes place, interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia and was punishable by fine and imprisonment.  It seems as though Richard and Mildred benefitted from their upbringing and current residence in a more rural country environment, which likely allows them to come to the decision of marriage in the first place.  Since they’re typically away from town and associate mostly with family, no one  of consequence would really know if they were married or not.  This thinking leads them to Washington D.C. where interracial marriage is legal and the couple is able to obtain a marriage license to go along with a small ceremony.  Of course all does not go as planned when they return, as word of their marriage makes its way to local law enforcement in the form of Sheriff Brooks, played with a quiet menace by Marton Csokas, leading to both being arrested and held in the county jail.

     Their attorney, Frank Beazley (Bill Camp), negotiates with an obviously biased and closed minded judge, Judge Bazile (David Jensen), to allow the couple to avoid prison time, but it comes at a cost.  Richard and Mildred are ordered to either dissolve their marriage or leave the state of Virginia for 25 years, which means both of them leaving their families and those closest to them.  From their demeanor, neither Richard or Mildred appear to be the type of people who would become activists or question the authority of the state.  Both are quiet and soft spoken, preferring instead to comply, rather than create unnecessary attention for themselves or their families.  This remains the case throughout the story, and becomes even more obvious when they are approached by a young attorney, Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), who via the ACLU wants to appeal their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

     The idea that two people, regardless of color or sexual orientation, were unable to marry legally in Virginia in the late 1950s is yet another sad chapter in the history of our country.  Nichols carefully presents Richard and Mildred’s story in a manner that remains touching and thought provoking throughout, but never goes overboard with the politics of either side.  In fact, most of the film remains muted scene by scene with very little in the way of dialogue or set pieces created for the purpose of shock value or making a point.  In other words, Nichols never feels it’s necessary to include the kind of physical atrocities depicted in films such as “Selma” or “12 Years a Slave”, instead opting to utilize the strain and sadness seen on the faces of his two leads to communicate to the audience the pain these people endured.  This results in a highly effective character study of two people who didn’t want to fight a battle, but desperately wanted to be together.  Never once do we see either of them compromise their values in order to achieve validity for their marriage in the eyes of the state, and their perseverance is rewarded in what became a landmark Supreme Court case, as well as an important moment in the fight for equality and civil rights.  In telling the story, Nichols’ calming influence brings a heightened sense of plausibility to each scene, resulting in one of the best films of the year, and performances by Negga and Edgerton which should garner plenty of awards season notice.  GRADE: A