Against all odds, there’s not a hint of violence in it. And I could’ve sworn I smelled it coming, more than once. Even a mid-film car accident is realized off screen…plus the victim survives! Yes, “Loving”, the latest (and most atypical) feature from writer/director Jeff Nichols, works hard to avoid its television drama trappings. It mostly succeeds. In fact, until it ultimately veers into some well tread territory involving lawyers and court rooms, it’s one of the year’s finest films. Still, despite these missteps late in the game, it showcases two of the year’s most glorious performances. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are absolutely outstanding. That makes up for a lot.
It’s 1958, and white laborer Richard Loving (a slightly flamboyant, but marvelous, Joel Edgerton), falls in love with a local black woman named Mildred (an astonishing Ruth Negga). But they are raided and jailed almost immediately, for breaking Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. Richard’s plans to build a home are thwarted. And the Lovings aren’t released from prison, until agreeing to leave the state for a period of 25 years. Moving to Washington D.C. ultimately, they struggle to raise a family in the big city, eventually deciding their children deserve a life of wide open spaces. A quiet battle ensues, to reclaim their home state base. Eventually there is a noisier fight, that takes on racial injustice.
Before it ever becomes obvious that “Loving” is going to be about the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, this quiet, affecting film burrows itself into your soul. Honestly, the litigation and technical portion, although brief, is largely intrusive and uninteresting. It screams Oscar bait. Before that, “Loving” is wonderfully patient. And Ruth Negga makes a completely compelling Mildred. Any worthwhile list of the year’s finest acting, has her name near the top. Often impressive, Joel Edgerton gives Richard Loving just a little splash of actory histrionics, as a contrast to the even-keeled Mildred. It was the correct move. This is the second 2016 film in general release, for the gifted Jeff Nichols (“Midnight Special” was first). I’m loving his work ethic. His muse, Michael Shannon, provides an extended cameo.