MOVIE REVIEW: Joel Edgerton digs deep for Loving role

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga in a scene from the movie Loving.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga in a scene from the movie Loving. Contributed

RUTH Negga was nominated for an Oscar for her quietly luminous performance in Loving as a black North Carolina woman who illegally marries a white man - and spends the next 10 years suffering the consequences.

But she was outsparkled by Emma Stone's star vehicle, La La Land.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton, exotically blonded for the role of her husband, got a nod from the Golden Globes but failed to make the Academy Awards cut.

Some say he was robbed for what is unarguably a career-best performance. But then, Loving is not an Academy Awards-style film.

In adapting the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving for the big screen, director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) has made a film that is almost as unassuming as the couple upon which it is based.

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in a scene from the movie Loving.
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in a scene from the movie Loving. Ben Rothstein

Loving is the antithesis of Great American Literature and I mean that as a compliment.

Fences, another Oscars favourite, required Denzel Washington and Viola Davis to spit out great slabs of playwright August Wilson's meaty dialogue in a truly dazzling display of thespian virtuosity.

The Lovings - you couldn't have made that name up - are ordinary, working class folk. They are not particularly articulate. And they sure didn't set out to change the world.

They're the sort of people who prefer to avoid the spotlight - especially after they are arrested in 1958 for the crime of interracial marriage.

She's a family-focused country girl. He's a bricklayer who hots up drag racing cars in his spare time.

But you only have to take one look at Lola Loving (Sharon Blackwood), his enduring midwife mother, to understand that Richard is made of stern and solid material.

Proud, stubborn and very clear on the line between wrong and right, he travels all the way to Washington DC to marry his pregnant girlfriend.

The authorities might have turned a blind eye to their continued cohabitation, but declaring the union legitimate is another matter entirely.

The Lovings are hauled out of their bed in the middle of the night and arrested. They escape a hefty jail sentence on the proviso that they immediately leave the state. They are banned from returning - even to visit their families - for the next 25 years.

The displaced family struggles to survive in the city - where two more children are born. But they yearn for the open spaces of the country in which they grew up and the company of the people they love.

Watching the civil rights marches on television, and galvanised by the speeches of Martin Luther King, Mildred writes a letter to Senator Robert Kennedy. He refers their case to the American Civil Liberties Union (the same ACLU that has recently been active in fighting US President Donald Trump's travel ban).

The motivations of the people that help the Lovings are somewhat ambiguous - particularly the self-serving lawyer played by Nick Kroll (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Jeff Goldblum) and Michael Shannon's Life magazine reporter.

But they get their day in court.

Told with solid, timeless craftsmanship of its brickie protagonist, Loving does its subjects proud.

Loving opens tomorrow.



Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon.

Director: Jeff Nichols

Rating: PG

Verdict: 3.5/5 stars

Topics:  joel edgerton movies

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