By Bob Bloom
Big-issue movies seem to announce their presence like the town crier — bellowing how audiences should pay attention and watch because they have something important to impart.
“Loving” puts such films to shame, telling its story in a quiet and understated manner — with grace and dignity.
Richard and Mildred Loving are the focal point of this true story about an interracial couple from Virginia who married in 1958 and simply wanted to live as man and wife like other people.
But the state’s antiquated miscegenation laws forced them to leave their home and Virginia to avoid prison sentences.
Relocating to Washington, D.C., the Lovings began raising a family and adapting to the city.
Both, however, felt out of place. They were small-town, rural people who were missing family and friends back home.
In the early 1960s, Mildred was encouraged to write a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred their situation to the ACLU, which saw the case as a chance to overturn all the miscegenation laws still on the books in most Southern — as well as some other — states.
The beauty of “Loving,” written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is that while the ACLU was hungry to make a big splash and headlines, all the Lovings wanted to do was return home so they could enjoy life in familiar and warm surroundings.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who has done some fine work recently in “The Gift” and “Black Mass,” displays a restrained and reticent personality as Richard.
He says little, and when he speaks, his voice is so soft that you often must strain to hear what he says.
Richard is a private man who is uncomfortable with all the hoopla surrounding the case.
When his ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen tries — to no avail — to persuade him to attend the Supreme Court hearing of their case, he continually refuses.
The frustrated Cohen then asks if Richard wants him to tell the justices anything. “Yea, tell them I love my wife,” Richard says.
The key component to Edgerton’s performance is the mason’s level he continually uses at work and carries around with him. It is a symbol of how Richard maintains his balance and an even keel.
Ruth Negga as Mildred gives a deceiving performance. She, like Richard, does not say much, but she demonstrates a quiet strength and a quick wit that allows her to gently push the reluctant Richard to accept the ACLU’s help to change the law — and better their lives.
At times, Negga’s eyes express more than any line of dialogue can convey, as she and Richard draw strength from their love.
Nick Kroll as Cohen and Jon Bass as Phil Hirschkop, the Lovings’ lawyers, are quite a contrast to the couple. They are a pair of, liberal, idealistic Jewish lawyers, who seemingly overwhelm the Lovings with their enthusiasm for the case and — at times — fail to understand why the Lovings are not as passionate about the lawsuit as they are.
Basically, they see the national implications of the outcome, while the Lovings remain focused on simply getting their lives back to where they want it to be.
“Loving” is a gentle reminder that love is powerful enough to overcome even the greatest obstacles thrown up by a state government and myopic people who are more interested in divisiveness than embracing the bonds that unite people — in marriage and in life.
It is a lesson that we surely need to be reminded of today.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
4 stars out of 4
(PG-13), mature themes