Friday, October 28, 2016


Tom Hanks   Felicity Jones   Omar Sy   Irrfan Khan   Ben Foster   Sidse Babett Knudsen

          Inferno is based on the fourth book by Dan Brown about Cambridge symbolist Robert Langdon (Angels & Demons, The DaVinci Code, The Lost Symbol), who solves puzzles and crimes by interpreting the symbols associated with them.  This film opens with Langdon (Hanks) in the hospital following a head wound and suffering retrograde amnesia.  He can’t remember what happened to him, at least for the time being.  He’s given some information from his doctor, Sienna Brooks (Jones), but when bullet fire begins, she helps him escape and takes him to her apartment. 
         It takes a fair amount of time, skirmishes, and new characters like Bouchard (Sy) Sims (Khan), and Sinksy (Knudsen) showing up for Langdon to get a full picture of what is going on.  In the meantime, he and Brooks are running from assassins while Langdon tries to solve the puzzle of why this is happening.  They’re in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; then with more clues, they run to Venice, and finally must go to Istanbul to fill in the last of the puzzle.
     Director Ron Howard has made this an action film with much less time spent on presenting and deciphering clues as happened in the previous two works.  As a result, it is much less engaging.  The threat of a virus that has the potential to wipe out half of the world’s population adds some excitement, along with finding out more about the characters responsible (e.g., Zobrist, played by Foster).  But again, character development is weak, so we don’t know much more about him, only about his idealistic plan.
      Tom Hanks plays the befuddled hero well, as he has done with so many such characters.  Supporting actors Jones, Sy, Khan, Knudsen, and Foster likewise portray their roles well.  The ending with Langdon and Sinsky leaves much to be desired in its nostalgic parting of ways. 
          I’m not sure why this film was made.  I think maybe everyone involved signed on early on, but perhaps by the time shooting began, enthusiasm had waned considerably.

This is only for diehard Dan Brown/Robert Langdon fans.

Grade:  D                            By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, October 24, 2016


Min-hee Kim     Kim Tae-ri     Jung-woo Ha     Jin-woo Jo

        This is a strange, mysterious tale about a young girl being chosen to be the handmaiden to a wealthy Japanese lady in South Korea.  It opens with the girl Kim (Tae-ri) handing over a baby she has been tending to, to an older woman and is soon taken by carriage to a mansion in the deep woods.  She has been trained to be an excellent pickpocket, and is told by her conman associate Count Fujiwara (Ha) of his plan for her to help him seduce her new mistress, Lady Hideko (Kim), a Japanese heiress.  He wants to marry Hideko and finagle her out of her fortune.
          Hideko is generous with Kim, and the two develop a close bond, because Hideko has been kept in her uncle’s house for years with little or no socialization.  He is an investor in rare books, has a gigantic library, and has Hideko read to him every day.  When Count Fujiwara comes to visit, Kim does everything she can to foster their courtship. 
        The film is in three parts, the first being about the Count and Kim planning on getting Hideko declared insane and put into an asylum after the marriage and his managing to get control of her assets.  The problem is that Kim had not counted on her and Hideko developing a close bond, so she becomes ambivalent.  The second part is more about Hideko’s harsh upbringing in the hands of her relatives.  Alliances shift all during the story, and there is a final shift in the third part.  These shifts and differing perspectives provide much of the fascination of The Handmaiden.
       Just as much, Chan-Wook Park‘s direction, the music, and cinematography enhance the mystery and mystique of the work.  It manages to be a completely absorbing tale, suspenseful, erotic, and even humorous by turn with its many-layered characters and exotic settings—and brief horrific torture.  He has successfully adapted Alice Waters’ British novel and BBC television series (Fingersmith) into an Asian rendition.  Park manages to slip in some political references to the Japanese occupation of Korea, which further supports one of his major topics, the bridging of cultures and social classes.
        Sensitive audiences should know that the film contains explicit sex, nudity, and violence.

An exotic, entertaining tale with suspense, intrigue and humor.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, October 21, 2016


Laura Dern   James Le Gros   Jared Harris   Kristen Stewart   Rene Auberjonois   Michelle Williams   Sally Rodier   Lily Gladstone

          Imagine an airport in which everyone is missing their connecting flights; there are some who think they have gotten on one, only to be denied, something that seems like an accidental connection that doesn’t hold.  They’ve invested in hope and are heartbroken by the outcome. This is the picture I get from Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women.  It gives us snippets of the characters’ lives without much explanation about how they got where they are or why they do what they do.  No one is particularly happy or successful, and it looks like their lives are filled only with the routines of existence.  We don’t see much passion in their lukewarm relationships, and the breakdown of one is responded to with a “Meh…” 
          The film is similar in structure and tone to Reichardt’s previous films, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff.  The plot moves slowly with sensory information striking (e.g., beautiful landscapes and the crunching of horse hooves on the snow) but character development less so.  Relationships are weak and restrained.  Many like this leisurely, cool approach, but I get impatient.
          Based on Maile Meloy’s short stories, Certain Women gives vignettes from the lives of three women.  Laura (Dern) is plagued by a client who won’t take no for an answer, and keeps popping up unannounced at her office.  He eventually gets so desperate he takes a hostage and has a standoff with the police.  Even after he is in prison, he is begging her to write him, “just anything.”
       Gina (Williams) is married to Ryan (Le Gros), and they have a moody teenage daughter.  Ryan has just ended an affair, but is not about to leave his wife, because he “doesn’t do very well without her.”  Gina desperately wants a new house with her own specifications, including sandstone, but one wonders whether the marriage will survive such a project.
          The strangest tale is about Beth (Stewart), a lawyer from a lower middle class family who has made good, and has a job.  But for some reason, she agrees to teach a class two nights a week on a subject of which she knows little, and has to drive four hours each way to get to the classroom and back home to show up for work the next day.  Lily (Gladstone), a ranch hand, follows students into her classroom the first night, stays out of curiosity (and perhaps a crush on the teacher), and tries to establish a friendship between them. 
          I think in some ways, this film could be entitled “Looking for [a] Mommie” because the stories have characters who seem desperate and look to a female for attention and nurturance.  The sadness is that each is disappointed—even broken-hearted—by the lack of response from the other.  Certain Women is meant to be by women, about women, and for women, but it gives a distorted view of our lives.  Surely, most women do not have such soulless lives as these characters.  Few of the women I know or have known are as disconsolate and impassive as the three women in this film.
         The performances of Dern, Stewart, Williams and Gladstone are reason enough to see this film; they evoke our sympathy and we wonder how things will turn out for them; unfortunately, we never do find out. 

A film about lonely, lonely women who seem to get no satisfaction.

Grade:  C-                           By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Keanu Reeves     Renee Zellweger     Gugu Mbitha-Raw     Gabriel Basso     Jim Belushi

       The whole truth comes out in dribs and drabs in this courtroom drama directed by Courtney Hunt, writer/director of Frozen River.  Young Mike Lassiter (Basso) is being tried for murdering his father Boone (Belushi), who has a reputation for being abusive to his wife.  Ramsey (Reeves), a friend of the family is his defense lawyer, but the problem is that Mike will not talk to him or anyone.  Ramsey pulls in another attorney (Mbitha-Raw) simply for window dressing and a strong nose for sensing lying. 
         One of the cleverest devices in the film is having courtroom scenes contain flashbacks showing a picture of the person’s memory as he/she is testifying, often suggesting that the person talking is not telling the whole truth, is mistaken, or is frankly lying.  Interestingly, in a key piece of evidence, we see none of this device.
       The story states straight out that Mike confessed his guilt to the first officer on the scene, and his fingerprints are on the knife.  Ramsey at first takes the tack of showing Boone’s abusiveness toward his wife Loretta (Zellweger), as witnessed by many people, particularly those at a garden party six months before the murder.  When Mike insists on taking the stand, Ramsey and Loretta are horrified, but Mike does it anyway, revealing a major piece of evidence in the case.
        The Whole Truth is not especially compelling in its plot, in that many will figure it out before it is revealed.  Reeves is a typical lawyer-type (and does an effective voice-over reminiscent of Verbal in The Usual Suspects) and Zellweger is a typical self-effacing, bullied wife.  Neither is particularly challenged in their roles, and Basso, being mute, basically just stares.  The strongest and most interesting character is played beautifully by Mbitha-Raw playing a “stooge” who is questioning and sharply figuring out the case as she goes along, much of which we see in her facial expressions. 
        It has been eight years since Courtney Hunt’s major successful picture, Frozen River; and she has written a few scripts for television shows in the meantime; but I guess it will take a bit longer for her to get back into her groove.

The whole truth may occur to you early on in this film.

Grade:  D+                    By Donna R. Copeland


Dev Patel     Nicole Kidman   Rooney Mara   David Wenham   Sunny Pawar

          This is may be one of the most complicated adoption stories you will ever hear about, and it is based upon a true one.  Saroo (Pawar) is an incredibly industrious Indian child of about five who adores his older brother and wants to go everywhere with him for jobs.  (Their mother is single, supporting three children by gathering rocks.)  They do things like hop on a coal train and take some of the coal to sell in the city.  When Saroo insists on accompanying his brother on a job during the nighttime, Guduu tries as hard as he can to dissuade him.  Finally, the older boy relents, and takes Saroo with him.  When they arrive at their destination on the train, Saroo has fallen asleep and refuses to wake up, so Guduu goes on without him, instructing him to wait on a bench in the train station, and he’ll be back for him.  Time passes, Saroo awakens many times, but no Guduu.  He starts wandering, and realizes too late he is on a train that is moving.
          Saroo ends up in Calcutta where they speak Bengali, but fortunately, many know Hindi, his language.  He wanders the streets for two months, gets picked up by a seemingly kind woman, but manages to escape when he realizes she has bad intentions.  Finally, he is picked up by officials who are charged with getting homeless children off the streets, and put in a kind of orphanage. 
          By something of a miracle—but probably also because of his positive qualities—an Australian couple has asked to adopt Saroo, and he is on the plane to Tanzania.  The rest of the story is about his life there with his new parents, Sue (Kidman) and John (Wenham), and eventually another adopted Indian child who becomes his brother.  Twenty years go by and the story continues with Dev Patel in the role of Saroo. 
         Despite being very happy in his new home, Saroo’s wish to recapture his Indian identity grows to the point he becomes obsessed with it.  He studies maps and train schedules, using Google Earth and his memory of places to figure out where his family might be.  He is sure they have wondered and worried about him all these years, but his separation from them prompts questions about his own identity:  “I’m from Calcutta…no, I’m not from Calcutta; I’m lost.”  His search is made more complicated by the fact that the child mispronounced the name of his hometown and didn’t realize his real name was Indian for ‘Lion.’
          Lion is based on Saroo Brierley’s novel about his life in the 1980’s-90’s, and at the end of the film we are treated to footage of the actual people in the real-life drama.  The film is truly artistic in its presentation by Australian Director Garth Davis (Mini-series “Top of the Lake”) and the cast and crew.  Davis’ directorial work has been nominated for numerous international awards, including coming in second this year for the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival for Lion.  Casting for Lion is strong, with Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman already being mentioned as possibilities for Oscar nominations.  The child actor for Saroo, Sunny Pawar, is enchanting in his portrayal of the feisty, smart, industrious boy who combines these qualities with thoughtfulness and caring. 
          Music by Volker Bertelman and Dustin O’Halloran forms a significant component in the film, particularly since there is little dialog in long sequences (e.g., when Saroo is alone and trying to find his brother), and its beauty in mood and tunefulness makes its presence known in every scene.  Cinematographer Greig Fraser likewise makes his work an integral part of the story, with the camera guiding us through mazes in cities and then sweeping through the teeming millions in the city or the breathtaking landscapes of Tanzania.

An intriguing and inspiring “lost and found” story.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Hailee Steinfeld     Blake Jenner     Kyra Sedgwick     Woody Harrelson     Haley Lu Richardson     Hayden Szeto     Alexander Calvert    

          The Edge of Seventeen put my nerves on edge, partly because I’m a psychologist.  [If ever a group of people needed therapy, this family does, but—unrealistically—it’s never mentioned to any of them.]  Secondly, I’m bothered by so many of the current films meant for teens glorifying or minimizing the bad effects of alcohol.  When the protagonist here, Nadine (Steinfeld), drinks so much she’s hanging over the toilet the next morning with her friend mopping her brow, I’m curious about what the filmmakers’ intend and what adolescent viewers will think of it.  Are they likely to admire it or get the impression that “everybody does it” or “no big deal”?  Might filmmakers come up with better ways to rebel and protest as models for young people?  (Yes, I know it’s not about that; it’s about the money to be made in making people laugh, even if what they laugh at is inappropriate.) 
       Nadine has a hard life for someone in her circle (middle/upper class suburban), primarily because she is annoying.  She is not an “easy” child in her rebelliousness—physical manifestations in her younger years and sarcastic, put-down remarks in her teens.  Grade school is torture until she finds one friend, Krista (Richardson), who appears to be the only one (besides her father) who is nice to her.  The film can be credited for its portrayal of a mother who might spawn such a child, Mona (Sedgwick), who idolizes her older son Darian (Jenner) and always regards Nadine as less than, or worse.
        When a family tragedy occurs, Mona increasingly turns to Darian, and Nadine becomes more and more of a problem.  Nadine ups the ante to force her mother to pay attention to her, becoming more and more distressed and acting out, while desperately seeking help from other sources.  But when her best friend Krista begins taking up with Nadine’s brother Darian, she loses the only real support she has ever known (besides her father, who is no longer available), not because of Krista rejecting Nadine, but the anticipation of Krista rejecting her.
         The comedy in The Edge of Seventeen is in the people she turns to for help.  One is her teacher, a wry Mr. Bruner (Harrelson), who has some of the funniest come-back lines in response to a range of her tragedies (loss of father, suicide thoughts, miss-sent text) and her bombastic accusations.  The best thing for her (and the movie) is that he is never shocked by what she says, but responds in a way that makes us laugh and bewilders her.  Only Harrelson could pull this off in the way that he did—quintessential Harrelson.
     Another person Nadine turns to is a shy classmate, Erwin (Szeto), whom she underestimates and devalues (partly because he seems to like her) until the end when she can be truly impressed.  Their interchanges are realistic for shy kids their age, and constitute some of the most genuine and comedic portrayals in the film. 
         Unfortunately, there is someone else Nadine turns to, a crush she has on someone she doesn’t really know, Nick (Calvert).  She accidently sends him an erotic text, which he surprises her by responding to, and they go out on a date that doesn’t turn out well.
        Steinfield does an expert job in playing an annoying, difficult child with self-esteem problems, and her gradual painful transformation into a more mature person is nuanced.  Kudos to veterans Harrelson and Sedgwick; it’s always gratifying to see talent and experience at work.  Szeto’s Erwin could be considered a break-out performance in his portrayal of a kind of nerdy, artistic character still naïve, but with tons of talent.
        The Edge of Seventeen is a debut film for writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.  It’s a good start, but I hope she will become more thoughtful of the social/psychological messages she sends in her films, and go beyond simply pleasing an audience that may not be very discriminating.  She appears to be sensitive to human dilemmas and experiences, and could become more mindful of creative means of overcoming them.  She presents rich psychological material in the characters, but these are not resolved in a realistic way.
        In addition to the problems with this film mentioned in the first paragraph, I cannot figure out why filmmakers cast older actors to play teenagers.  Steinfield was 19 when the film was made—which isn’t so bad—but the other teen actors ranged in age from 20-30 years old.  If there weren’t talent in the age range of the film, I could understand, but there are; so why don’t filmmakers cast them?  It’s simply ludicrous to expect us to imagine a 17 year-old in a 30 year-old body.

A film about teenagers probably not for teenagers.

Grade:  C                                   By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, October 17, 2016


Gael Garcia Bernal     Jeffrey Dean Walker   Alondra Hidalgo

          Desierto depicts the arduous, dangerous trek undocumented workers from the south make, trying to reach the U.S. in hopes of a better life.  Jonás Cuarón co-wrote, directed and produced the film in collaboration with his renowned filmmaker father, Alfonso (Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men) as producer.  A previous joint effort by the father and son include the multiply award-winning blockbuster, Gravity. 
          When a truck carrying a group of 14 hopefuls breaks down in the middle of the desert, the driver tells them and his unwilling assistant they will have to go the rest of the way on foot.  Unfortunately for them, a self-appointed vigilante (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) with a high-powered rifle and a well-trained tracking dog is roaming around trying to find them after he sees their tracks.  From there on, the film is essentially following the group and their pursuer as they laboriously make their way, not knowing exactly which way to go.  It’s a mournful, discouraging story made all too real by similar accounts we read about in the newspapers.  In view of current attitudes toward immigrants, the Cuaróns hope to rouse some sympathy for those who are so desperate to get here they undergo uncommon horrors in addition to the blazing sun and thirst.
         Filmed in Baja California, Cinematographer Damian Garcia captures the beauty and desolation of the desert around the border, accompanied by the haunting music of Woodkid.  Bernal is a gifted and experienced actor, and he is up to his usual performance here; and it’s a good thing because he is the only admirable character in the film.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whom I see as a white-skinned Benecio del Toro, effectively plays a sinister, bitter guy whose favorite recreation seems to be tracking prey and getting his thrills from hitting the mark.
         Desierto does fill the viewer with suspense and dread as intended by Jonás Cuarón, but viewing does become tedious at times without much happening besides the tension-filled chase, except for a few dramatic episodes sprinkled in here and there.  Perhaps it would have helped if the back-stories of more of the characters were told.  We hear only a bit about two, so don’t have much of an investment in the others.  The most serious missing back-story is that of Sam (Morgan).  I would have loved to make sense of his character by having more details about his journey in life.  And by the way, why doesn’t he have a mobile phone?  I understand that even smugglers are using them nowadays to guide their charges through the desert.  But maybe this is set in an earlier time.

The exhausting, dangerous journey of undocumented workers trying to make it to the U.S.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Natalie Portman   Peter Sarsgaard   Greta Gerwig   Billy Crudup   John Hurt   Richard E. Grant

          The opening scene:  A black screen and loud, dirge-like music with sound winding down like someone stopping an old phonograph player clues you in for the mournful tragedy that is to follow.  In Jackie, director Pablo Larrain has created an artistically rendered film that pays homage to Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of slain President John F. Kennedy, and the aftermath of his assassination.  We get a behind-the-scenes view of her efforts in planning his funeral, the many resistances she encounters, the conflicts she has with some, and the intrusive advice she receives, regarding funeral planning and her children for instance, from so many.  Above all, we see an intelligent woman whom many considered shallow and pretentious take the helm and manage to honor her husband in the way she wanted, which was based partly on her keen knowledge of history but as well on her own deeply felt, genuine emotions.
           Larrain jumps around in time perhaps to help convey an impressionist “painting” of the woman and give the viewer a sense of the turbulence experienced by the country after the assassination.  Scenes are interspersed with an interview conducted by “A Journalist” (Crudup)—presumably Theodore H. White, a family friend—whom Jackie had asked soon after his death to write about John Kennedy’s legacy for Life Magazine.  This is apparently where the comparison was made with their years in the White House as “Camelot”, the subject of a Broadway Play, the last song of which was Kennedy’s favorite.  Jackie wanted the article to convey the import of the song:  “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” 
        Other scenes portray Jackie’s interactions with Bobby Kennedy (Sarsgaard); her efforts, assisted by William Walton (Grant), in restoring the White House; poignant moments of intense grief and loss; and conversations with a priest (Hurt) during a stroll in Arlington Cemetery.
          The film is a tour de force for actress Natalie Portman as Jackie.  She is in virtually every scene, and gives us a convincing picture of a beautiful, intelligent, accomplished woman of great complexity who could dismiss the most presumptuous adversary with a terse, incisive comment.  At the same time, Portman needed to show the Southern and Catholic influences in Jackie’s background, along with that of privileged wealth.  
        Peter Sarsgaard doesn’t look much like Robert Kennedy, but it is easy to see the resemblance in his actions and tone, whether he is grieving for his brother, supporting the widow, or voicing his anger and disappointment about the curtailment of what he hoped would be a brilliant and lasting legacy.  Billy Crudup as the sometimes cheeky journalist challenging and complimenting his interviewee shows us the awkwardness of the situation, his attempts to maintain objectivity, and finally succumbing to her charm.  Greta Gerwig's performance as Jackie's lifelong friend and White House Secretary is nuanced and appropriately low key.
           Mica Levi’s music and Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography support and enhance the excruciating drama played out on the screen, and Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay is an even-handed, historically accurate commentary on the “Camelot” years of John and Jacqueline Kennedy.  Pablo Larrain’s synthesis of all the components into a captivating whole should earn him praise and justifiable award consideration.

An insightful, artistic portrayal of a sometimes controversial American legend.

Grade:  A                                 By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, October 14, 2016


Rachel Weisz     Timothy Spall     Tom Wilkinson     Andrew Scott

          Picture an intelligent, attractive young woman who is a professor of history at Emory University in Atlanta.  Deborah Lipstadt’s (Weisz) area of expertise is the Holocaust, and she has written a book about it.  She is gutsy, organized and articulate, and it’s obvious that her students respect her.  Suddenly, an odd looking gentleman begins lurking at the top of the theater style auditorium where she is lecturing, and during the Q&A intrudes on her class.  As a Hitler apologist, he starts arguing that she is wrong about the Jews being persecuted.  She knows who David Irving (Spall) is, a “pretend” historian she has previously criticized by drawing a distinction between the facts and his opinion.  He won’t shut up, so security is called.  Unbeknownst to her, he has an accomplice film her making critical statements about him, and two years later she receives notice that he is suing her for defamation and ruining his reputation. 
          The interesting part of the film is that he is suing her in a British court, where, unlike in the U.S., where a defendant is innocent until proven guilty; in London, it is upon her to prove her innocence.  I say this is interesting because an aspect of this film is showing legal procedurals, some distinctly British, but some I take it are common to both countries.  But the director (Mick Jackson) has made a very intelligent film based on Deborah Lipstadt’s novel (David Hare, screenplay) in which the legal strategies are entertaining and instructive, but in addition, we see how they affect an independent, outspoken, learned woman who is emotionally/culturally sensitive.  So in all, there is conflict in legal approach as well as conflict between Lipstadt and Irving, with social sensitivities and concerns mixed in.  Not only does Deborah want to testify, she wants Holocaust survivors to appear on the stand as well.
        Her team of lawyers, Anthony Julius (Scott), Richard Rampton (Wilkinson), and their assistants have a different plan, one based on logic in which emotion is minimized.  She is incredulous that they don’t want her on the stand, or talking to reporters, or bringing in survivors.  Moreover, they want to go before a judge rather than a jury.  “What?!”, says Deborah, “the truth of the Holocaust is to be decided by one man?”  She wrestles with the team every step of the way, and the naïve (to law) viewer will feel sympathy for her.  This provides the tension in the film; is the legal team’s strategy hair-brained or is it brilliant? Her attorneys explain the difference between putting the Holocaust on trial vs. keeping the focus on Irving, his veracity, and his motivations.
          I am impressed with Rachel Weisz’s acting range through the years, and notably this year, she plays an aggrieved mother in The Light between Oceans, a chameleon figure in Complete Unknown, and now a university professor in Denial.  In all three, she lights up the stage with immersion in her character.  Tom Wilkinson is his usual expert actor here, showing his character’s unassuming manner, dedication to his work, occasional self-doubts, and warm compassion.  Andrew Scott lends flash and charisma to a complicated character who can be playful as well as deadly serious.  The music by Howard Shore and cinematography by Hares Zumbarloukas contribute greatly to the mood, beauty, and drama in Denial.
      Denial falters a bit at the end when closing scenes are dragged out beyond a reasonable length, as if audience suspense needed to be hyped up.

An intelligent picture with legal strategy, personality, and social conscience all interacting.

Grade:  A-                  By Donna R. Copeland


Ruth Negga     Joel Edgerton     Nick Kroll     Michael Shannon     Margaret Blackwood

          Another Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special) film that quietly pulls at your heart and reason and captures your attention.  It’s aptly entitled because the last name of the interracial couple having to buck Virginia’s outdated law against their union is Loving.  When their case, championed by the ACLU, goes to the Supreme Court, and the attorney asks Richard (Edgerton) what he wants to say to the Court, Richard’s answer is simply “I love my wife.”  Nichols wrote the screenplay based on an actual case, but he dramatized it, using as much information as he could glean about the actual case.  In the Q&A after the screening in Austin, Texas, he said all the legal information he gathered would have made a very boring movie, so he chose to write a drama, keeping the focus on the couple.
         Loving is about an interracial couple in the ‘50s-‘60s who defied Virginia law against miscegenation by going to Washington D.C. to get married, and upon returning home living together as husband and wife.  They lead a normal life in a family atmosphere, unaware of a “snitch” who informs the local police.
     The Lovings are an interesting twosome—she is only 19 when they marry (in Washington D.C.)—and he takes his responsibility for caring for her seriously.  So when they are roused from a deep sleep by policemen invading their bedroom one night and hauling them into jail, we see the beginnings of his disillusionment (“It’s just not right”) and mystification, although he continues to accommodate to the sentencing they receive (which is lighter than it otherwise would have been, thanks to a sympathetic local lawyer who is a friend of the judge), which uproots them from their home and her family to the city of Washington D.C.  He is a good honest worker-type who diligently drives back to their hometown every day for work.
     As time goes on (marked by seasons changing and children being born), Mildred (Negga) develops more confidence and assertiveness, so when her relative giving them accommodations in Washington says to her during the Civil Rights marches in the ‘60s, “Write to Robert Kennedy; you need to get you some civil rights”, Mildred does just that, which gets the ACLU involved.  It’s at this point that we see Mildred’s gradual transformation into a sharp woman who comprehends what the lawyers and press are telling her and becomes aware of the social significance and implications of their pressing forward.
        Another thing I love about Nichols’ writing is that he makes this transformation positive and non-threatening to Richard, partly because of her loving nature, but partly because his inner strength makes him thoughtful and, once again, accommodating, always from a strong position.  (The movie could be an inspiration for couples in achieving equality in their relationship, along with its message about equality for all citizens.)
      The casting of these two characters could not have been better.  Ruth Negga epitomizes a woman we can admire in any age—tender, sharp, decisive in a quiet way, sympathetic, and empathetic.  [For fun, you can contrast this with Richard’s mother (Sharon Blackwood), a midwife, who is scary looking when we first meet her, devoid of emotion and issuing out instructions, yet still supportive of her patients.  It’s unnerving later to see her as a doting grandmother, but that is Nichols again capturing human nature in all its variances.] 
     Joel Edgerton should be highly praised for portraying this character who is eloquent in nonverbal language but terse or reticent verbally.  His facial expressions, eyes, body language, and cryptic comments give you a full picture of who he is, what he values, and what he is about.  Both Edgerton and Negga embody Nichols’ subtlety and accuracy in honing in on the human psyche with all its complexities.
     With all the low-key drama, we also get to chuckle, as for instance, when Richard is evaluating the value of ACLU lawyers—for which there is no charge—he says wryly and cynically, “You get what you pay for.”  For all his crustiness and terse observations, Richard is the most comedic character.

Jeff Nichols, an artist with cinematic social sensitivity who’s still entertaining and insightful.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland