Nutshell: A well crafted film about an important moment in history. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton deliver quiet, powerful performances. Writer/Director Jeff Nichols focuses on the people that made the case, rather than the case itself. The result is a powerful, engrossing story. Grade: A
“You just got born in the wrong place is all.”
Story: Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving are crazy about each other. Why not get married? Well, because in their home state of Virginia, it was illegal; Mildred is “colored” and Richard is “white”. “Anti-miscegenation” laws made a union between them jail-worthy. But the ACLU has a plan…
Genre I’d put it in: Culturally relevant biopic
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Orignal: Based on the real lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who were plaintiffs in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which found the prohibition of interracial marriage unconstitutional.
Gotta say: Loving doesn’t dig into the nitty gritty of civil rights in the 60s. It doesn’t lay out the whys and wherefores of anti-miscegenation laws, or spend too much time on the actual Supreme Court argument. What Loving does is show how these laws affected one couple, and how that couple tried to live within the law before it became more than they could live with. It’s the story of Mildred and Richard, and it’s a beautiful, powerful tale that in today’s political climate is especially relevant.
Understated performances by Negga (Preacher) and Edgerton (Black Mass) make the story all the more powerful. These aren’t people who were looking to make a statement. All they wanted to do was live their lives in their small town of Virginia, just like anyone else. Negga channels Mildred Loving’s quiet resolution, a perfect balance to Edgerton/Richard’s stoicism. And while the film puts most of the focus on the couple themselves, there are a few other performances that caught my eye. Nick Kroll, known for his comedic chops, plays the out-of-his-depth ACLU attorney assigned to their case with a sweet mix of fire and uncertainty. As Mildred’s sister Garnet, Terri Abney balances out Mildred’s calm, and her charismatic performance is one I’d have liked to have seen more of.
And Michael Shannon, as Time photographer Grey Villet, logs in yet another top-notch performance for the year. It’s a brief performance that could almost be called a cameo, but Villet’s photos focused on the love between the Lovings, rather than the case that swirled around them, and Shannon does an amazing job being the Everyman who just so happens to be at the right place at the right time, taking photographs that caught the nation’s attention. The combination of Shannon’s “fly on the wall” characterization, along with Negga and Edgerton’s touching embodiment of the couple, make these moments some of the most powerful, and emotionally resonant, in the film.
Add to this an absolutely incredible soundtrack, with the likes of Ritchie Valens, Earl King, Robert Ellen and Clarence Reid giving a solid mix of 50s and 60s rock & rhythm to the story, and production design that illustrates but never belittles the blue-collar farm life they lived (oh those gorgeous cars!), and Loving is a film that sneaks up and grabs your heart. Be sure to catch the pictures of the real couple as the film draws to a close, along with a brief text-on-screen overview of their lives after the case.