For everything that has occurred with equal rights and the right to marry in the last few years, not many (if any?) know where some of the origins on this battle discussed, and as a Virginia resident, I had some knowledge about them, but not as much as I should, for better or worse. Thankfully, Loving comes to the rescue.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud), the film tells the story of an interracial couple living in central Virginia in the late 1950s. Richard (Joel Edgerton, The Gift) is a soft-spoken bricklayer, while Mildred (Ruth Negga, World War Z) is barely 18 when she finds out that she is pregnant. The two marry, but police kick in the door of their home and arrest them, charging them with a violation of the state's Racial Impurity Act. They are ordered to leave the state and not return for 25 years, or be sent to jail. Visiting their families proves to be too complicated, and eventually they challenged the validity of the law, which eventually led to the Supreme Court overturning the law and was a landmark in the battle for civil rights, and was referenced in the recent Supreme Court battle over same-sex marriage.
Loving is different from other films that show Joe Six-Pack being thrust into the position where they leave an impact greater than they could possibly expect. Richard and Mildred were a soft-spoken couple who loved one another, and that's how it was. And Nichols shows this effectively in the early moments of Loving. Richard hangs out with Loving's family and has numerous black friends, and either nobody in that community thinks about it that much, or it's just not discussed. They enjoy life, and Nichols makes sure that we enjoy them enjoying it too. There are lots of shots where the viewer just gets the chance to marvel at the relationship and the environment, to the point where many of the visuals could easily be dropped into a Malick film.
When the film does start to ramp up, the treatment the couple receives is soft-spoken yet shocking at the same time. The police arrest them both, and Richard is released the next day, while Mildred is held for the weekend because prejudice I guess. They aren't overly compelled (until somewhat late in the film) to try and take up their cause. Which is to say they handle it a little soft spoken, compared to how other films would approach it. The film shows some apprehensions that Richard has in this, but his epiphany is touching and shattering, and Edgerton communicates this well in a performance that was transformative and intriguing. Matching and lapping his work is Negga whose evolution of Mildred is also quiet but effective and worthy of the praise and recognition it's been receiving.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is how Nichols handled the screenplay and told the story. Artistically, the film lets the Lovings experience what is happening to them and letting the viewer relate and express emotion independently, rather than having to be told why an event is outrageous. When the lawyers/ACLU are finally introduced into the mix, they look at the Lovings' case strategically and legally and the emotions (which would likely be present in other films) are not here because they don't really need to be.
If you look at the overarching stories within Nichols' films, you see him telling dramatic tales, though his last couple of films, including Loving, seem to find him branching out a little bit genre-wise. Though it is important to note that almost all of his films find themselves with a setting south of the Mason Dixon line because he has a kinship with the people, the stories and the emotions of them, and he uses them as the foundation with which to build. Whether the story is about a young potential extraterrestrial or a loner living on an island by himself, or an interracial couple from a half century past. But for his past work, Loving simultaneously presents a departure and advancement from it, with an emotional level that is handled quietly by its stars. He's written and directed five films, isn't even 40 yet, but I find myself appreciating just how well Jeff Nichols gets results from his cast, and I eagerly look forward to his next work.The Blu-ray:
Loving uses the AVC codec in its 2.40:1 high-definition presentation with the results being dazzling. The early scenes show the greens of the countryside and occasional magic hour shots in lush greens and yellows with a solid multidimensional look to them. Image detail is abundant in tighter shots (such as flaking of paint giving in to rust in the jail) or in larger ones, and exteriors are well-represented as the film transitions from warm summers to cold winters. Facial pores, hairs and fabrics are discernible during viewing and all in all the film is done well by Universal.The Sound:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround for Loving, which doesn't have much to do with its dialogue-driven nature. Nevertheless, when the cops bust in on the newlyweds the door crashing open is jarring, as is the low idling and revving of cars on the dragstrip. Dialogue is well-balanced through the feature and sounds natural, and directional effects and channel panning are present though not abundant, presumably so as to not intrude on the events onscreen. The events are natural and convincing on Blu-ray.The Extras:
Nichols provides a commentary that turns out to be quite an informative solo track. He talks about the writing challenges and how he leaned on a 2011 documentary titled The Loving Story when it came to writing the screenplay. He provides historical context to some of the locations and identifies which scenes are less than accurate. He discusses character evolution and motivations, shot intent and breakdowns, and discusses the performances. It's a good track, better than the extras I think. "Making Loving" (4:28) is your standard EPK albeit shorter, and "A Loving Ensemble" (4:07) looks at the cast from the crew perspective. "Loving v. Virginia" (4:26) examines the case from the cast and crew point of view, while "Virginia: A Loving Backdrop" (3:09) looks at the Old Dominion. Standard definition and digital copies round this package out.Final Thoughts:
Loving is more than just the story of Richard and Mildred Loving of Virginia. It's about a feeling, a frame of mind, an action. Like similar films, the end of this one catches us up with what the characters did since, and if they are still with us. And Loving does that, but its last card shows us what it was trying to do all along and it makes for a touching moment in an already touching film. Technically the disc is excellent and the extras are bland, save for Nichols' commentary, which is worth checking out. The film? Superb, both in front and behind the camera.