Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Terri Abney, Alano Miller Jon Bass, Michael Shannon
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 10/17/16
Opens: November 4, 2016
Is it not ironic that the most conservative citizens, true-blue Republicans, want to get the government out of our lives (except for defense), yet go ballistic when pro-choice people have their say? Granted: they have an argument, albeit a weak one, that the fetus is a separate being and deserves protection even though it is inside the mother’s womb. But those who opposed interracial marriage never really had an argument, yet they want (or wanted) state governments to ban black-white unions. Think of two consensual adults, not hurting anybody, yet such was once the law, not of the land, but of conservative states especially in the South.
Based on Jeff Nichols’s film “Loving,” the title being a cute bit of wordplay since the protagonists are named “Loving,” there is an answer after all. States like Virginia believed that it would be unfair to bring mixed-race babies into the world; that they would be considered illegitimate.
Jeff Nichols, whose “Midnight Special” deals with a father and son on the run from the government and from a cult that considers the child equipped with special powers, is more or less dealing with a similar situation now. The child, like the protags in “Loving,” are also outsiders, though the Lovings are people who defy the laws of the state of Virginia by marrying—in Washington, D.C. Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), had not intended to challenge miscegenation laws. In fact Richard, as played by Edgerton, is a strong, silent type, one-word answers being typical, and Mildred, played by Negga, is somewhat more enthusiastic when asked by lawyers to challenge the laws, though she seems painfully shy or at least soft-spoken. Richard is content hanging out with his friends (all African-American), laying bricks for a construction company, and building a house for himself and his wife.
When they are arrested by the county authorities, they get some assistance from a local lawyer, a friend of the judge, who urges them to plead guilty, suggesting that they would get a one-year sentence, suspended, provided that they leave Virginia for the next 25 years. They do so, but five years later, they are approached by Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass), who ask them to move back to Virginia, get arrested, and from then, appeals would be taken ultimately to the Supreme Court. It’s a miracle that Richard does so and there is no surprise that the same judge, hearing the case, wrote: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and placed them on separate continents….there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend the races to mix.” So much for the judge’s knowledge of God’s intentions.
The rest is history. In 1967, case of Loving vs. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Virginia law. Laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.
The entire picture comes across with just a shred of melodrama, as when Richard is chased by an unknown driver on a back road, though nothing is made of this. This is a sedate drama that would not necessarily capture the attention of fans of the violent “The Birth of a Nation,” though advocates of solid performances will praise Edgerton’s disappearance into his strong, silent character. The picture is so sedate, in fact, that it could be mistaken for a docudrama. It’s wonderful that the production team has revived a judicial action that is ultimately heroic, ground-shaking, celebrating the good work of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its representative lawyers noting that only one out of four hundred cases is even accepted for review, i.e. certiorari. Despite its virtual absence of melodrama, the entire two hours go by quickly, engaging our interest and showing that our country is still moving slowly and with quite a few unfortunate interruptions to the left.
Rated PG-13. 123 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+