With films like Take Shelter, Mud and even this spring's somewhat uneven Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols has steadily built a filmography of terse beauty. With Loving, he tackles the kind of boldface subject matter that Oscar season feeds on: It's a historical drama about the 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage. Which makes it even more impressive that Nichols stays true to his sensibility, avoiding the melodrama or the triumphalism you expect from such movies. Loving downplays the historical significance of its subject in favor of a quiet humanity.
The film stays focused -- almost to a fault -- on the modest, very-much-in-love couple at the center of the case. In the opening scenes, set in the late 1950s in Virginia, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) can't seem to keep themselves off each other. Without idealizing anything, these early scenes depict a poor, rural community that's surprisingly diverse, and nobody seems to make much of the fact that these two -- a white man and a black woman -- are in love. When they decide to get married, Richard and Mildred must cross state lines and drive to Washington, D.C. To them, it's the way things are. They're just people getting on with their lives.
You might expect a story like this to have righteous speeches and fire-breathing racists. But all we really get is Marton Csokas in a relatively small part as the dirtbag police chief who arrests the Lovings, going on about "God's law." We get no broad cathartic moments -- no great breakdowns, speeches or confrontations. By the end, though, don't be surprised if your face is awash in tears.