Thursday, 22 September 2016

LOVING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Bland TV-movie approach deflates history

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as interracial Loving couple.
Loving (2016)
Dir. Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga) deserves better than an earnest, plodding, vaguely pretentious made-for-television-styled movie like Loving. Thankfully Nancy Buirski's fine 2011 HBO feature documentary The Loving Story, upon which this dramatic rendering by Jeff Nichols is based, has already delivered the cinematic goods this important story deserves.

Alas, the legal case involving an interracial marriage which challenged the grotesque anti-miscegenation laws of the backward State of Virginia is dramatically rendered here with all the artistic panache of a connect-the-dots colouring book puzzle. The promise writer-director Jeff Nichols displayed in his 2007 Arkansas-cracker family feud drama Shotgun Stories and the extraordinary 2011 survivalism end-of-days psycho-drama Take Shelter has subsequently and sadly dwindled.

Like so many laws of diminishing returns, his output increasingly underwhelms. His Dullsville 2012 contemporary Huckleberry Finn-like Mud and this year's ludicrous science fiction drama Midnight Special maintained his quiet, measured voice, but served up stories unbecoming of his earlier work.

Loving is the worst of the lot. He retains his voice almost to a fault, but does so within the trappings of something that might be more suited to an episode of the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Marton Czokas as scumbag racist Virginia cop.
Nichols's film introduces us to working-class Caucasian drag-racing aficianado Richard Loving who, with longtime African-American girlfriend Mildred, decides to flout the moronic Virginia law against interracial relations. They visit Washington D.C. to get married in a civil union after they discover she's pregnant with their first child. Upon returning, their home is raided by cracker-barrel cops led by the systemically, virulently racist Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks (Marton Czokas). Rather than face a year in prison, the couple cop a plea and agree to leaving their home in Caroline County, Virginia and promise never to return to the state together.

Life in the big city proves untenable and the couple "illegally" returns home to the rural idyll they've known their entire lives. They're subsequently arrested and the film continues to detail their long legal battle (with the assistance of dogged ACLU lawyers) to have the Virginia law eventually overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

There's nothing especially wrong with the film in that it's nicely acted and extremely competent on a craft level, but there's nothing all too right with it either. The "competence" factor is especially egregious and renders a movie that feels like it's been made rather inconsequentially for the small screen rather than the ordinarily high stakes needed for big screen theatrical product. There's nothing wrong with a quiet, subtle approach, but it's employed here to the point where our emotional investment is ultimately more rooted in the basic facts of the case rather than anything imparted dramatically.

Nichols probably thought he was being oh-so clever by focusing upon the "normal" and "mundane" details of the couple's life, but he tries to have his cake and eat it to by framing his approach within an otherwise conventional, by-rote structure.

For one of the most important events in American History to be handled with competence and precious pretence, inadvertently deflates the whole thing. If the movie was dreadful, one could at least say it was shameful. That it's strictly middle of the road is even worse. It's just one big pile of nothing.


Loving was a TIFF 2016 Gala Presentation.