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‘Loving’ shows how interracial marriage barrier was broken in U.S.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, right, portray real-life married couple Richard and Mildred Loving in “Loving.”
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, right, portray real-life married couple Richard and Mildred Loving in “Loving.” Focus

One of the best films of the year, “Loving” is a deeply moving yet subtle regular-folk retelling of the headline-making 1960s interracial couple who wanted simply to live together without fear. It opens Friday nationwide.

Writer-director Jeff Nichols, in his fifth and best film to date, unfolds this true tale with quiet resolve and his knack for honest, heartfelt storytelling. With “Mud” and “Midnight Special,” he demonstrated such promise, and now with “Loving,” he again is guided by the humanity of the common man.

This drama does not need courtroom fireworks or showy performances to depict how this unassuming pair toppled the last race-based legal restriction on marriage in the landmark 1967 Supreme Court unanimous ruling.

In 1958, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) married in Washington, D.C. But where they lived in Central Point, Va., the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was still enforced. They were arrested, jailed and sentenced to a year in prison, but that was suspended as long as they never came back to their home town, or crossed the state line for that matter.

They raised a family in inner city D.C., but Mildred yearned to bring up her children in the country, like she and Richard had grown up. Inspired by the civil rights movement, and with the help of Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the ACLU, they fought to legalize their union and live where they wanted.

In 21st century America, their love story is a remarkable touching and inspiring one, and not just for the hardships they endured.

Performances

Ruth Negga (TV’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”), as Mildred, and Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”), as Richard, are solid as this couple indicative of the times — Richard, a stoic breadwinner who took good care of his family, while Mildred, established a caring home for them.

Nichols is able to draw career-best work from the couple, who tell us all about their courage through gestures and glances. Negga is likely to be on the Oscar shortlist, and Edgerton might get there too.

In his previous films, Nichols has used Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”), and he again delivers a memorable portrayal as a Life magazine photographer who came to the Lovings’ modest home to take pictures for a news spread in the weekly magazine.

Comedian Nick Kroll makes a surprisingly effective dramatic turn as the inexperienced young lawyer driven to see this case succeed.

What Works: With sharp ensemble work and authentic period atmosphere, “Loving” is committed to getting the details right, and the accuracy is admirable.

What Doesn’t Work: The film is without artifice, and its unhurried pace might be off-putting to people used to movies shouting their points with exclamation points.

But its genuine stripped-down simplicity is what makes the film so special.

“Loving”

  • Stars: 4 out of 4
  • Director: Jeff Nichols
  • Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Nick Kroll
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Length: 2:03
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