Susan Granger’s review of “Loving” (Focus Features)
Writer/director Jeff Nichols solemnly tackles one of the most influential Civil Rights cases of the late 1960s.
When his girlfriend Mildred (Ruth Negga) told bricklayer Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) that she was pregnant, he insisted on driving from rural Virginia to Washington, D.C. so they could get married.
Richard was Caucasian and Mildred was African-American; interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia in 1958 under an “anti-miscegenation” statute enacted in 1924.
After they returned home, Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) and his deputies burst into their bedroom to arrest them. The judge offered a one-year suspended sentence if they’d leave the state and not return for 25 years, noting:
“Almighty God created the races: white, black, yellow, Malay and red. He placed them on separate continents and, but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages.”
So the Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. But Mildred hated urban living and was determined to have Richard’s midwife mother (Sharon Blackwood) deliver their child. Which led to their second arrest.
The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1963 inspired Mildred to write to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who referred their plight to the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU lawyers (Nick Kroll, Jon Bass) gradually guided their case to the Supreme Court, resulting in the Loving vs. Virginia decision in 1967, which struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage – chronicled by a Life magazine photographer (Michael Shannon) as “The Crime of Being Married.”
But unlike “Sully,” which began with Capt. Sullenberger’s plane crash-landing in the Hudson River and went on to reveal “the rest of the story” – there are no dramatic disclosures that offer insight into the characters or their dilemma. Only historical facts, emphasizing stoic patience and perseverance.
Plus, Richard was a taciturn, monosyllabic, almost stone-faced fellow, and Mildred’s shy, soft-spoken demeanor was also extraordinarily low-key. Their reserved humility drains much of the drama out of this real-life story.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Loving” is a slow, sensitive, subdued 7 – timely primarily because it paved the way for the more recent controversy over same-sex marriage.