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Loving (Blu-ray Review)

loving coverWith Loving there comes a certain expectation that writer/director Jeff Nichols is not out to provide. The historical drama surrounds an event that led to the invalidation of state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. This seems like the typical kind of film to automatically receive awards consideration. Regardless of if it does or doesn’t, Nichols is not that kind of filmmaker. Following Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special, there is a definite low-key style to how he approaches his films, regardless of genre, and that once again applies to Loving, which does little to sensationalize a story that actually led to a change in constitutional law. While only up for a Best Actress Oscar, the film has certainly received its share of accolades and can now be found on Blu-ray.

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Film:

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Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple who begin the film by getting married outside of their home state of Virginia in 1958. Their interracial marriage violates Virginia state law, leading to an arrest and being belittled by Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) and other members of law enforcement. Eventually the Lovings are forced to leave the state, but certain actions lead to a series of legal proceedings to fight against the state and take the case to the Supreme Court.

There is inevitability to how a story like this plays out, given the historical context, but Nichols is more interested in the Lovings. However, rather than showing them as fearless crusaders, he allows Edgerton and Negga to play up the qualities that are more likely true to who the Lovings actually were. Edgerton’s Richard is a quiet man who is good with his hands, using them to provide for his family (and allowing for a rich visual metaphor). All he wants is to be with his wife and raise a family. The idea of being a part of history has little concern for him, aside from the benefit of not being harassed for bigoted reasoning.

Negga’s Mildred is a bit more forward in letting the audience know what she wants. She is a bit mousy, but also knows how to be assertive when the time calls for it. While the first half of the film focuses more on the pain she suffers in having no options, the second half gives her a chance to come alive, once a new solution presents itself. The character gets to both take on a chance to make things right and stick by her husband every step of the way, as the Lovings truly are a loving couple.

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Defying expectation, Nichols takes turns when it comes to producing certain characters and leading the story to its eventual steps. Perhaps Csokas is a bit on the nose, as far as being a central character to focus so much unreasonable racism around, but I like how the film minimalizes its villainy and keeps focus on those stepping on the right side of history. More notable, as far as interesting direction, is Nick Kroll, otherwise known as fairly wild comedian, portraying the Loving’s ACLU-assigned lawyer Bernie Cohen. Rather than being shown as a hotshot lawyer with all the answers, we immediately learn that this man is a bit in over his head.

The film may have a character like this, who is later joined by another lawyer, but Loving does not even try to provide an explosive courtroom scene as the film’s climax. There are reasons for this, but again, this is a film that is much more concerned with attempting to visualize the emotional state of the Lovings. While Negga has only more recently been found on the film scene (her more notable credits are on TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Preacher), she emblemizes a character that is stronger for her resolve than may be perceived from the outside. Edgerton, who I have been quite the fan of, continues to be a master of understated reserve and expressions that say far more than words could.

Understated is a specialty of Nichols and while he does a wonderful job of handling the period details, his film is a quiet study of two people with a deep relationship with one another. One scene, featuring Nichols’ regular Michael Shannon, does a fine job of showing just how great this relationship is, as Shannon portrays an outsider with a job to capture what is special between them. A film like Loving succeeds in a moment like this, because the film is hardly about emphasizing a level of sappiness or melodrama. Instead, it provides a human drama that is not anxious to prove anything.

I started this review by mentioning how the film features the kind of subject matter that would tend to stand out in awards season. A historical drama focused on race and how laws and moral understandings have changed, which no doubt reflects the world of today in numerous ways, has that kind of draw. Loving is very good for how it decides to handle this material, even if it is at the detriment of appearing as something more showy for that sort of highly touted acclaim. It matters little though, as this deliberately paced drama has all it needs to garner a high reputation and keeps a true, loving relationship a key to its success.

Video:

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: While I have emphasized the level of understatement Nichols applied to the film’s narrative, Adam Stone’s cinematography does a great service to the film, which is reflected well for the Blu-ray’s video transfer. This disc looks great as far as showing off the level of period detail and the clarity of such elements as the repeated brick-laying motif. The Virginia setting also allows for a good look at the scenery that is displayed nicely.

Depth: Solid level of depth present here, as scenes are staged in a way that offers a fine look at character spacing and the relations to other objects.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and rich, with no signs of crush. Nighttime and indoor scenes find a good way of balancing out properly. There is a fine look to scenes relying on darkness throughout.

Color Reproduction: Colors look great in a “painting on a wall” sort of way, as the film has such a great presentation of its story. You get a lot of shots that feel candid, so it comes down to various instances of scenery or the clothing worn by these characters. That said, the colors do pop and continually look rich throughout. It’s subtle to some degree, but also quite warm.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures are solid here, as you see all the little details that make up the performers taking up the screen.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DVS Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1

Subtitles: English, Spanish French

Dynamics: There is a great sense of sound held throughout, thanks to this solid lossless track. Between the film’s score and general presentation of dialogue, you constantly hear all you need to in a way fitting of the film. Details like sound effects editing and the mix in bigger and quieter moments all come across quite well.

Low Frequency Extension: This is not a film full of huge auditory moments, but you do get some moments to hear the LFE channel shine, as the film gets into some interesting areas to pick up the soundtrack a bit.

Surround Sound Presentation: A strong balance is held well for this film, as you get all the audio elements portrayed properly. It may be center and front-channel focused, but the surround quality serves the film very well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard clearly.

 

Extras:

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The Blu-ray may only come with some standard EPK material, but at least it has a feature-length commentary track, which would have been great to hear on Nichols’ previous film, Midnight Special.

Features Include:

  • Feature Commentary with Director Jeff Nichols – Nichols provides an insightful track that’s a bit dry, but full of details about the making of the film.
  • Making Loving (HD, 4:28) – This features goes over the film as a whole.
  • A Loving Ensemble (HD, 4:07) – This features speaks of the cast.
  • Loving v. Virginia (HD, 4:26) – This feature is a look at the history of the case.
  • Virginia: A Loving Backdrop (HD, 3:09) – This feature looks at the impact of this story.
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

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Loving does a great job of telling an important story without too much fanfare. It makes up for a lack of flash with solid performances all around and assured direction. The Blu-ray is great as far as the technical presentation and is matched with a good number of extras to make this a worthwhile package to pick up. This is a drama made with a level of passion fit for the historical context and the Blu-ray serves it well.

 

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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