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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Movie Review - Loving

Loving (2016)
Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, and Michael Shannon
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Just because a movie tells an important true story doesn't necessarily mean it's good.  Unfortunately, that's the case with Loving which details the circumstances that led to the Supreme Court hearing Loving v. Virginia which ruled that interracial marriages were constitutional.  Director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols gets really nice subdued, lived-in performances from his leads, but the film is tediously numbing, embracing the "everything's slower in the South" mentality and failing to really create any momentum as it progresses.

"I'm pregnant" are the first words we hear as the film opens as Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a young black woman, sits on a porch nervously waiting for a response from her boyfriend Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man.  As a smile forms on Richard's face, the two decide to get married, but due to laws in Virginia where they currently reside, they must travel to Washington, D.C., to get a marriage license.  Even after they return to Virginia as husband and wife, Mildred and Richard have to walk on eggshells because the concept of an interracial romance was not looked upon kindly by those in their neighborhood.  Shortly following their wedding day, the couple is awoken in the middle of the night by a police raid on their house which sends both Richard and the pregnant Mildred to jail for sleeping in the same bed together.  Upon their release, they are tried in court and through a plea bargain set up by their lawyer, the couple are forced to leave Virginia in exchange for not facing any jail time.

Over the course of the rest of the film, we see how Mildred and Richard deal with their extradition from Virginia, being forced to leave their families behind and start anew on their own.  Eventually, after nearly a decade, the couple's case is tried before the Supreme Court, but the film doesn't focus on this aspect of their story as much as I'd expect.  The end result, as a matter of fact, feels oddly rushed and almost tacked on which seems a bit odd considering it's the impetus behind their story being told cinematically in the first place.  

The quiet nature of the film grows boring quickly, but Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton both give understated, yet powerful performances where more is told through their eyes and facial expressions than any actual words.  Both Negga and Edgerton have crafted characters that feel lived-in and natural to the 1950s/60s world they're inhabiting in the film.  The connection between the two of them feels credible and Negga in particular is captivating in the strong, yet subdued way she carries herself as Mildred.

The film itself, though, simply wallows in blandness.  Repetitive shots of bricklaying or car races or a laughably silly closing image of a rope hanging over a tree (that is used as a children's plaything but is obviously harkening to its similarity as a noose) feel unnecessary and unimportant to the plot.  There's an appreciation to the notion that Jeff Nichols focuses mainly on the couple rather than the important civil rights battle of their triumphant story, but the quiet nature of the piece almost creates a lack of compassion for these two because the film feels a need to be stoic and calm rather than a little passionate.  Loving is well-acted and it's certainly an interesting story, but in the end it's more likely to put you to sleep than elicit any other emotion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

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