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Loving’ succeeds more as a statement

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Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
Mike D’Angelo

Three stars

Loving Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Alano Miller. Directed by Jeff Nichols. Rated PG-13. Now playing in select theaters.

Loving is much more a worthy movie than a good movie—one that will challenge no decent person’s preconceptions—but maybe that’s just what America needs right now. Directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), the film dramatizes, with sober restraint, the events that led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage in the United States. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as the symbolically named (truth is stranger than fiction) Richard and Mildred Loving, and Nichols chooses to focus on the couple’s relationship rather than on the legal details, depicting a rock-solid union between two good people who just want the right to live together in peace.

As recently as May, when Loving premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it seemed like a case of preaching to the converted, where “the converted” is everyone. After all, same-sex marriage is now legal. Both leads do fine work—Edgerton renders himself unrecognizable as a soft-spoken man forced into principled action against his will—and the film eschews cheap sentiment at every turn. But it almost could have been made in 1967, as it seems to believe that viewers need to be persuaded that anti-miscegenation laws were unjust and cruel. “Isn’t it horrible that two people who love each other this much were persecuted for no reason?” it keeps asking. The answer is too obvious to fuel great art. Suddenly though, the question seems germane again.

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