Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

12/07/2016

Loving
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — Dignity and understatement are usually noble qualities in a film. “Loving” (Focus), the fact-based story behind a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, is so restrained and decorous, however, that it nearly obscures the historical significance of the events it recounts.

Partly that’s the result of the portrayal of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton). This white Virginia bricklayer, one of the movie’s two main characters, is shown to be taciturn, monosyllabic, almost stone-faced. The only fleeting emotions he expresses are terror whenever strange cars appear on rural two-lane roads and a sense of humour while watching the sentimentalized South on offer in an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Richard’s serene African-American wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga), gets to display considerably more human qualities. It’s she who kicks off their legal crusade — which eventually succeeded in demolishing race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States — by writing to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Inspired by the civil rights movement, which she experiences only on TV, Mildred also understands the need for national news coverage.

The Lovings, who lived in Caroline County, Virginia, married in Washington in 1958 — thereby evading, temporarily at least, their home state’s law forbidding interracial unions. Such “anti-miscegenation” statutes had their origins in the days of slavery but were reinforced in Southern states after the Civil War; Virginia’s was enacted in 1924.

Shortly after returning to the Old Dominion, the couple was arrested and jailed. Because the commonwealth rejected the validity of their marriage, deputies also hoped to arrest the Lovings on a fornication charge — thus increasing the penalties they would face.

Contemptuous Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) expresses the only flat-out racist sentiment in the movie, ridiculing Loving’s close proximity to black neighbours and telling him, “You were just born in the wrong place, is all.”

A judge gives the duo a one-year suspended sentence, and forbids them to return to Virginia for 25 years. So they move to Washington.

But they don’t take to city life, and when they return to Virginia for the birth of their first child — Richard’s mother, Lola (Sharon Blackwood), is a midwife — they’re arrested again. They eventually move to a neighbouring county where law enforcement is less inclined to harass them. But they seek legal relief in order to return to Caroline County, where Richard has promised Mildred he’ll build her a house.

These circumstances must have been extraordinarily stressful, since the Lovings had no way of knowing whether any given nightfall would be the cue for a hate crime. Yet writer-director Jeff Nichols doesn’t allow either Richard or Mildred to be freely emotional.

Occasionally, relatives express their frustrations, but that’s it. Nichols keeps his drama free from the histrionics that surely must have occurred.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, inexperienced but hugely confident in the merits of the case, guide it to the Supreme Court. But even there, their arguments and those from the state — which at least would explain to viewers why all of this matters — are truncated.

So no long monologues for any of the characters. Rather, the dialogue aims to be brief and pithy. When lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) asks Richard what he should say to the justices, for instance, Richard merely grunts, “Tell them I love my wife.”

The cultural impact of the Lovings’ struggle makes this valuable viewing for mature teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains a premarital pregnancy, a couple of crass terms, fleeting racial slurs and two scenes of childbirth. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Incarnate
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Somewhere in the planning stages of “Incarnate” (BH Tilt), someone must have thought it would be a good idea to combine elements of Christopher Nolan’s 2010 tour de force “Inception” with tropes that have been familiar to moviegoers at least since Linda Blair’s head went spinning round in “The Exorcist” way back in 1973.

The difficulty is that director Brad Peyton’s mostly secular addition to the exorcism subgenre of horror films only suffers by comparison to such memorable predecessors. The low-rent proceedings, moreover, include a portrayal of the Catholic Church that’s marked by lazy cynicism.

Thus, when Vatican official Camilla Marquez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) asks the film’s burned-out protagonist, Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart), what he’s got against the church, he responds, “How much time do you have?”

Camilla has sought Seth out in the hope that he can help with a case that has foiled the priests dispatched to deal with it (a circumstance likely to irk Catholic patrons still further). This provides Seth with the chance to express his disdain for a spiritual approach to possession. To him, the foes to be confronted are “entities,” not demons.

Seth’s expertise is based on the fact that, like some of the characters in “Inception,” he can enter the minds of others, in his case the possessed. By rescuing them from the spell each entity casts when occupying someone, he cures them.

But this unusual gift has long made Seth a target for the forces of the underworld. In fact, one entity essentially ruined Seth’s life by causing a car accident that killed his wife and son and left him paralyzed.

Could this be the same evil spirit currently besetting Cameron (David Mazouz), the young boy whose plight Camilla has brought to Seth’s attention? Seth suspects so, and that’s his principal motive for eventually agreeing to see what he can do for the lad.

As scripted by Ronnie Christensen, “Incarnate” feels grim and uninspired even when it’s not antagonizing believers — as it does even by way of its ill-chosen title. There is a bit of a concession to Christian sensibilities during a key confrontation toward the end of the picture. And the bloodletting is kept within appropriate bounds for a mature audience throughout. But it’s still amounts, overall, to a slow slog through Hades.

The film contains occult themes, anti-Catholic sentiments, occasional violence with some gore, a few uses of profanity, at least one rough term and several crude and crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service

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