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Loving: A Tale Of Equal Rights
In 1958 Virginia, Richard Loving and his pregnant girlfriend, Mildred Jeter, made the decision to get married. They crossed the state line and quietly exchanged vows in Washington, DC. They quickly ran into a problem when Virginia refused to recognize the marriage of this interracial couple and eventually arrested them. In Loving, Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) strike a plea deal with the court by agreeing to leave the state and not return for 25 years. Richard works construction and works on cars as a side line. Mildred simply takes care of the house in the nation's capitol. Their family grows, but Mildred grows concerned for family when one of their children suffers a mild injury when hit by a car. As a result, she wants to relocate the family to a more remote part of their former state, in spite of the prospect of re-arrest for violating their agreement. Richard supports Mildred's decision.
Before their return, she writes a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy about their situation. That letter gets forwarded to the ACLU, and they hear from ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll). They meet, and Cohen promises to fully support the Lovings in getting their marriage recognized everywhere. The counselor also gets help from fellow ACLU lawyer Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) as the case moves through the courts. It also gets the couple attention that makes them feel uneasy. Cohen eventually becomes surprised at the reaction he gets when he informs the Lovings their motion will be heard by the Supreme Court.
Loving is a quiet, but effective, look at the real-life couple and the years they spent hoping the law would change from writer-director Jeff Nichols. Loving, like his 2012 movie Mud, involves people trying to live their lives without getting the attention of the authorities. Both Mud and the Lovings learn they cannot completely distance themselves from trouble or from notice. They know their case requires attention, but they also don't want the attention to detract from their devotion to each other and to their children. Nichols shows the injustice the couple faced, especially the the hands of the law. Caroline County Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) treats both Richard and Mildred as trash. For as much as Nichols shows the love of this couple, I wish he'd have been more detailed on the Loving family life, and the concerns both families expressed. The understated nature of the film, though, shows respect to the way the Lovings wished to live their lives.
I like Edgerton and Negga in the lead roles. As Richard, Edgerton shows a resolve often shown through action and not words. When he and Mildred attend a drag race , they like when the car driven by a friend of the couple wins. Richard may have helped make the car race worthy, but they happily let the driver enjoy the victory the most. Richard keeps his comments brief to Cohen brief when it comes to expressing how he comes to how he feels about Mildred. Negga, as Mildred, shares her husband's resolve for keeping a more private stance on an issue that became more and more public as time passed. She often defers to Richard on big decisions, but it was she who wanted to come home to be closer to her other loved ones, which he understood. Kroll, who usually works in comedy, does a nice job as Cohen, a young, upcoming lawyer who knows the court challenge facing them will be a hard one. He shows a little of his comic skill in his first meeting with the Lovings, where he borrows the office of a colleague and brings a few personal effects to cover himself. Michael Shannon makes a strong cameo appearance as Grey Villet, the Life magazine photographer who spends an evening with the couple to get their story in words and pictures.
I have come to feel that the ongoing battle for civil rights will always need words of persuasion, but those who quietly live their beliefs make an impact that may be even stronger. Richard and Mildred Loving saw black and white, but they also saw beyond that. The law may not have made their lives easy, but the law never broke them. Loving takes a look at the nine-year fight the couple faced that most others never had to face. They faced the fight with a dignity that some might not muster under the scrutiny they faced, and they never led a public protest of their mistreatment. Richard and Mildred Loving simply lived from day to day in a routine fashion, knowing the viewpoint that mattered most in their marriage was their own.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Loving three stars. They said "I do" - and they did.