Saturday, February 4, 2017

Jeff Nichols' overlooked-but-deserving LOVING arrives on digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD

LOVING has garnered but a single Oscar nomination, though it is certainly as deserving of 14 of these as is the over-rated but its-about-Hollywood-so-of-course-the-industry just loves-it! La La Land. The latter may very well sweep the awards this year (remember the Best Picture Oscar for The Artist, surely one of the lesser films to ever win that award), but you would be foolish to miss the fine work that writer/director Jeff Nichols (shown below), his cast and crew have put in on the former film.

TrustMovies must apologize to Loving's distributor Focus Features/Universal Pictures, because he attended a press screening of the movie this past fall, loved it, and then forgot to schedule it on his computer calendar and so neglected to cover the film upon its theatrical release.  He hopes to remedy that now, as the movie is about to make its Blu-ray and DVD debut. (Look for it this coming Tuesday, February 7; it hit digital HD on January 24). This film is indeed a keeper.

All this strikes me as even more unusual because there have already been two earlier films about the same subject: the inter-racial couple Mildred and Richard Loving, who broke the miscegenation barrier in the state of Virginia back in 1958 but had to wait almost a decade until the Supreme Court struck down that barrier permanently, paving the way to greater marriage equality.

The first of these films was the 1996 made-for-cable movie Mr. and Mrs. Loving starring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon; the second was the even better documentary from 2011, The Loving Story, by Nancy Buirski (my review of that one can be found here). Both are good films (Buirski's is brilliant), so my immediate thought, when I first heard about this new version, was Why? Nichols puts that question thoroughly to rest.

The filmmaker combines a quiet, firm documentary style with a narrative that is first-rate: extremely well-paced, with dialog that rings constantly true. Nichols avoid melodrama particularly well, and the performances he draws from his able cast are as good as you could want. The film's single Oscar nomination went to leading lady Ruth Negga (above), and she is extraordinary -- able to offer up a world of feeling with the the barest minimum of "acting." Her performance is beautifully "contained."

Equally good is her co-star, Joel Edgerton (above), who gives one of the most self-effacing performances I have ever seen. From all accounts (and from the earlier documentary) Richard Loving was a shy man who prefered to keep completely out of the limelight. Edgerton gives us this, while making us also understand and believe the man's complete dedication to his wife and family.

The supporting cast is fine, too -- with Marton Csokas particularly good as a racist sheriff, and Nichols' regular Michael Shannon doing an unusual and lovely turn as the Life magazine photographer, Grey Villet. So quietly encompassing is this film, that it puts you near completely into the life and situation of this landmark couple, giving new meaning to the title of that popular old TV show, You Are There.

Technical aspects, from cinematography to production design -- sets, costumes, cars, wallpaper and the like -- are also first-rate, never calling undue attention to themselves but always absolutely on-target.

The film's subject matter, without ever making overt reference to this, cannot help but bring to mind the more recent and equally ground-breaking inroads to marriage equality that gays and lesbians have now experienced. This movie's a clarion call in so many ways.

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