Loving (2016)

13 Dec

loving2_h_2016

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“You shouldn’t have done what you did.” “You should’ve known better.” Those are only some of the remarks thrown at Richard Loving in the 1960s, whose deeds have put him and his wife in trouble with the law. If you don’t know who Richard Loving is, you may be wondering what he did to warrant these statements. Well…he married a woman and got her pregnant.

You may be thinking, “So what?” Well his wife, Mildred, was black and they lived in Virginia at a time when interracial marriage was prohibited by law. They were forced to leave the state and leave their family behind as well in order to start raising a family. Otherwise, they were going to spend time in prison.

You’ve heard many history stories about how horrible racism, prejudice, and anti-miscegenation were back in the day. It’s hard to think that’s what it was really like in that time, but it was true. Richard and Mildred Loving were exiled from their home simply because they were an interracial couple and there was a law that forbade them to be. After years of raising children and living a new life as a family, they were finally able to bring their case to the US Supreme Court. Due to “Loving v. Virginia,” the state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were invalidated.

That story is told in “Loving,” a new film by one of my favorite modern filmmakers, Jeff Nichols. He tells it in his usual low-key, underplayed style of filmmaking, which definitely works to the film’s advantage. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in 2016, which came as a surprise for me because I usually try to brush off movies that remind us of how horrid many white people back in those days unless they have something else to say about how things affect society nowadays. But this film found a way to tell its story about its dated situation by not preaching to the audience (save for a speech at the end, but it’s earned by that point) and simply showing us how everything affects the key characters by keeping it solely focused on them. It’s a straightforward “based-on-a-true-story” film, and a very strong, effective one at that.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard and Mildred Loving, and they deliver two of the best performances of the year. If one or both of these actors don’t receive Oscar recognition, I will be very upset. They’re both very subtle in the ways they get their emotions across. Their characters don’t proclaim everything on their mind and at their strongest moments comes minimal dialogue, meaning they have to act to the best of their ability. They pull it off greatly.

And that’s another strength to “Loving.” It avoids melodramatic traps. The way Nichols approaches this material smoothly delivers something that feels real and something that deserves to be acknowledged and considered. The film looks right, feels right, and is done right.

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