The Arts

Loving Marks Another Screen Triumph for UNCSA Graduate

(Last Updated On: December 14, 2016)

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A Loving story

***½

Writer/director Jeff Nichols’ fact-based Loving marks another screen triumph for the talented UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate – a potent dramatization of intolerance and integrity, as experienced by the Virginia couple Richard and Mildred Loving (played beautifully by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga).

The year is 1958, and Richard (white) and Mildred (black) marry in Washington, D.C. – then are jailed shortly thereafter, as interracial marriage is a felon. Essentially they are banished from Virginia, but years later – as the Civil Rights movement gains momentum – they are persuaded to fight the original charge, all the way to the Supreme Court.

The simple dignity that Edgerton and Negga bring to their roles is not to be underestimated in its effectiveness or impact. Richard and Mildred’s genuinely loving relationship isn’t conveyed verbally, nor need it be. Their emotions are powerfully conveyed in glances, touches, and the effortless ease with which the two actors imbue the couple.

There’s the very real sense that Richard and Mildred are navigating uncharted territory, and although they don’t seek to draw attention to themselves – quite the opposite, in fact – their devotion to one another (and their children) is palpable throughout. They simply wanted to be treated with the respect afforded any married couple.

There’s good supporting work from Nick Kroll as the idealistic attorney who takes the Loving’s case; Bill Camp as their first attorney, whose sympathy only goes so far; Martin Csokas as the steely-eyed sheriff who persecutes them; and Michael Shannon (again collaborating with Nichols) as photographer Grey Villet, whose Life Magazine photograph of the couple brought national attention to their plight – and their life together.

Loving is moving without being manipulative, dignified without being preachy, and forceful in its subtlety. It rings with truth and compassion.

 

Reading between the lines

***

Adapted from Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan by screenwriter/producer/director Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals is a brooding and stylish yarn, distinguished by a first-rate cast and crafted with a cool detachment that occasionally recalls David Lynch and David Fincher.

The film is divided into parallel storylines. The first focuses on Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a Los Angeles gallery owner who lives an affluent but arid lifestyle with her handsome but faithless husband Hutton (Armie Hammer), and who receives a couple of the titular novel, penned by her first husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The second focuses on the novel, with Gyllenhaal playing protagonist Tony Hastings, whose cross-country move to the West Coast is tragically interrupted by a trio of toughs (Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo and a particularly nasty Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who abduct and murder his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher and Bamber).

Susan is clearly affected by the novel, and as she reflects on her marriage to Edward (in flashbacks), she is constantly drawn back to the novel, which then details Tony’s efforts to exact retribution on those who have destroyed his life, aided by laconic Texas lawman Bobby Andes (a flawless Michael Shannon), who’s more than willing to bend a few rules on Tony’s behalf.

Noted fashion designer Ford, who made an auspicious filmmaking debut with A Single Man (2009), brings expected visual flourish to the proceedings – sometimes dominantly so. There’s also a certain vague texture that’s certainly in keeping with the genre. Nocturnal Animals isn’t quite as profound or penetrating as it aspires to be, but it makes a valiant stab and boasts more than enough attributes to make it worthwhile and praiseworthy.

Chief among them are the performances, with Gyllenhaal and Adams again delivering affecting work in the leading roles, and Shannon all but stealing the show. Alas, such talents as Jena Malone (wearing an extremely odd outfit), Laura Linney, Michael Sheen and Graham Beckel are only briefly glimpsed – although Linney tears into her one scene as Susan’s haughty mom. Abel Korzeniowski’s score and Seamus McGarvey’s slick cinematography further serve to enhance the film’s surreal, even otherworldly ambiance.

 

Love, loss and redemption

***½

Manchester by the Sea, the latest film from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan is an involving, character-driven drama whose collective impact slowly, quietly creeps up on you. With a low-key, occasionally languid approach, Lonergan’s film transcends a potentially soap-opera storyline with humor and, more importantly, humanity.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a quiet, self-effacing custodian eking out a (very) modest living in Boston, receives word that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died after a long bout with congestive heart failure, which necessitates Lee’s return to their family home in Manchester by the Sea.

Lee’s return proves even more emotionally difficult than the circumstances would indicate, for reasons that are divulged later. Much to his surprise, Lee has been granted custody of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges, son of playwright/filmmaker/UNCSA graduate Peter Hedges) – a responsibility he neither wants nor feels he deserves.

A series of flashbacks, well incorporated into the narrative by Lonergan, divulges the reasons for Lee’s long exodus from Manchester – which explains and deepens the character. Affleck’s sublime performance is among the actor’s very best, combining a self-effacing (and self-loathing) reticence with periodic outbursts of frustration and rage.

As a playwright, Lonergan occasionally spends too much time with peripheral characters, although never to the detriment of the overall story or the diminishing of the main characters. The wintry New England setting is very much a character, beautifully captured by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes with a vivid working-class flavor.

Gretchen Mol appears as Patrick’s estranged mother, with Matthew Broderick (who appeared in Lonergan’s fine 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me) as her new husband. Michelle Williams, who has far less screentime than her second billing would indicate, nevertheless makes every moment count as Lee’s ex-wife, who has made her own effort to put their past behind her, with only marginally more success than Lee. Chandler exudes warmth and brotherly love as the one person whose faith in Lee never wavered – even if Lee’s own faith in himself did.

– Manchester by the Sea opens Friday

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92 (92.3 FM). Copyright 2016, Mark Burger

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