Loving

In 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving, played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga get married.  The problem is that they live in rural Virginia and being an interracial couple their marriage was illegal.  They had to go up to DC and get married by a judge but the marriage is not recognized by the Commonwealth.  When the Sheriff, played by Marton Csokas, gets word of the union, he raids the house and catches them sleeping in the same bed.  He hauls them off to jail.  Richard is bailed out but Mildred has to spend the weekend.

This is based on a true story, by the way.

With the reluctant help of a local lawyer, the couple cops to a plea bargain.  They don’t have to go back to jail but they must leave Virginia for a period of twenty-five years.  The couple moves to DC but they are country folk and never really take to city life.  As the years pass, they have three children (one was on the way when they got married) but they never stop missing their home.

Finally Mildred gets fed up and writes a letter to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy about their plight.  Kennedy passes the letter to the ACLU, which senses that this might be a good case to take to the Supreme Court in order to get anti-miscegenation laws struck down all over the country.  An ACLU lawyer, Bernie Cohen, played by Nick Kroll, takes the case and shepherds it through all the appeals to the highest court where they win a unanimous decision.  Along the way he encourages them to talk to the press and make their case to the public.  Richard is reluctant to do that but Mildred, naturally more outgoing, gets pretty good at it.

Loving is a really good, possibly even great movie and the main reason is the performances of the leads.  Ruth Negga plays Mildred as a smart assertive woman who completely understands her often non-communicative husband and sees what a good provider and a good man he really is.  At the beginning she is smart but unsure of herself.  As she grows accustomed to talking with reporters and documentary filmmakers, she become sophisticated.

Joel Edgerton probably delivers the best performance as Richard.  He plays him as an almost typical country boy.  A drag-racing enthusiast, he’s always working on cars.  He works hard at his day job as a bricklayer and seemingly never leaves the house without his level and bag of tools.  I say almost typical because his father worked for a black man and Richard grew up among black people and he truly doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.  He’s not stupid but he’s also not very articulate especially among strangers and tends to keep to himself.

Together the two leads have an amazing chemistry.  You can see how their marriage works and why they love each other.  This relationship needed to be and is the heart of the film.

Loving is a conventional drama, without an ounce of experimentalism in it.  The production and costume design perfectly captures the era and the cinematography has a dusty golden look to it that’s timeless and very appealing. There are no action set pieces or even scenery chewing emotional scenes, just restrained realistic drama.  The director/screenwriter Jeff Nichols did a great job putting it all together.

Loving is a moving tribute to two civil rights pioneers.

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