Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Michael Shannon
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The new drama from Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Midnight Special) starts slow, but is at least non-sensationalist in its treatment of a true inter-racial love story.
The title of this modest and understated film is about the only aspect of it with a significance beyond the obvious. Whilst the two central characters are indeed very much in love, they also happen to be a Mr. and Mrs. Loving.
And therein, outrageously, lies the cause of all their problems. This is a true story, beginning in Virginia at a time – 1958 – when ‘miscegenation’ (inter-racial marriage) was actually illegal there. Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is a white construction worker, and his pregnant partner Mildred (Ruth Negga) is black. They nip off to Washington D.C. to get married, and sneak back again so that Richard’s mother can deliver their baby. They are arrested, not for the last time, and the rest of the movie is essentially about a painfully slow and difficult search for justice.
Not that this unfortunate couple is particularly keen to take anyone on, or to be standard bearers in the civil rights movement. They simply want to be left alone – but the law has other ideas.
Joel Edgerton’s performance as the ultra-laconic Richard invites comparison with Heath Ledger’s in ‘Brokeback Mountain – both are Australians playing gruff American Southerners, for one thing – but, while Edgerton is fine, his role gives him little to do apart from looking shocked and lugubrious (as you would).
At any rate the ACLU gets involved, as in a sense does Life magazine, and the legal battle heads inexorably upwards toward the Supreme Court.
The period detail here is good, but – given what we already know going in about American history in the Sixties – there’s an unavoidable lack of suspense. Loving is sometimes low-key to the point of dullness, especially in its first half, but to be fair that’s a much lesser evil than the corny and histrionic way Hollywood often handles this kind of subject matter.