Subtlety is hardly the hallmark of your usual racially-charged potboiler about injustice in the late 1950s-early 1960s American South. Which is why LOVING (2016), the fact-based account of a black woman and a white man arrested in the state of Virginia in 1958 for the crime of being married, is such a rare experience.
As the title proclaims, it's a love story, although the love between Richard and Mildred Loving is one they have to fight for.
The trouble is, these simple country people aren't warriors. Richard is a bricklayer, quiet and unassuming. Mildred, homemaker and soon-to-be mother, shares these qualities. They just want to live their lives together and raise a family in the place where they themselves were born.
After a Virginia court forces them out of the state lest they go to prison on felony charges, the two take up residence in Washington, D.C., but their hearts yearn for home and family. This gets them into trouble when they return in order for Richard's mother, a professional midwife, to deliver Mildred's first child.
In a film with no broad, melodramatic strokes, there's a day-to-day realism that gently draws us in and lead performances which are quietly effective. Joel Edgerton (REVENGE OF THE SITH, THE GIFT, OPEN WINDOW) plays Richard as utterly well-meaning, taciturn almost to a fault, and dedicated to nothing more than providing for his family.
Physically, Edgerton, with his blonde buzzcut and guileless face, reminds me of a cross between Dennis Quaid and the kid who played "Phil" in the "Mr. Bungle" educational film that Pee Wee Herman used to show. He's often similarly childlike and naive, and doesn't understand why the state of Virginia can't just leave him and his wife in peace.
But LOVING isn't a courtroom drama, and most of the legal matters occur in the periphery as Richard and Mildred continue trying to make the best of things, secretly taking up residence close to their birthplace in Virginia where they dream of finally settling down.
Constantly, the specter of intolerance hangs over them as in the person of a cold, unyielding sheriff (Marton Csokas, LORD OF THE RINGS, ROMULUS MY FATHER, JACK BROWN GENIUS) and various other potentially threatening townspeople.
Despite the film's stately pace and lack of sensationalism, we're kept on edge with the knowledge that the idyllic existence the Lovings so desperately desire is susceptible to violent attack at any moment.
Still, we're spared most of the dreadful, lurid excesses of so many other films of this nature, allowing writer/director Jeff Nichols (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL) to indulge himself and us in a sweetly and deeply emotional exploration of the symbiotic relationship between the two main characters--Mildred, quietly supportive but increasingly assertive in the face of adversity, and Richard, who defers to her as long as he can simply continue to lead his life as a good husband and father.
Much of the backdrop for this story consists of actual locations and the period atmosphere is impeccably rendered. (Classic car lovers will have a field day.) The film is pictorially rich, and Nichols directs with a skill and restraint that always best serve the story without calling attention to his craft.
The 2-disc set from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment contains Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film as well as instructions for downloading a digital HD copy. Soundtracks and subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French. Bonus features include a thoughtful director's commentary as well as the following featurettes: "Making Loving", "A Loving Ensemble", "Loving v. Virginia", and "Virginia: A Loving Backdrop."
The historical importance of this story, of course, is legendary, yet LOVING is the kind of heartfelt personal drama that works its magic with a slow, deceptive subtlety whose cumulative impact is only realized in its final moments. Indeed, it wasn't until the epilogue, when I felt tears rolling down my cheeks, that I suddenly realized just how effective LOVING really is.
Buy it at Amazon.com:
This title will be released on February 7, 2017.