Joel Edgerton did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Richard Loving in Loving.
Loving tells the true story of an interracial couple in the 60's whose marriage would eventually challenge the law against it in the supreme court. Interestingly enough the film is best just when it depicts the people living their life, although I will say this is in part due to whatever Nick Kroll is doing as the Loving's attorney, Bernie Cohen. If director Jeff Nichols needed a Jeff Goldblum surrogate again why not use Adam Driver as he did for Midnight Special, but I digress.
Joel Edgerton is an actor who has flown under the radar for awhile even though his profile has gradually risen with every year. This seems to have happened once again with this film, as he did receive just a few notices for his work though his co-star Ruth Negga, as Richard's wife Mildred, was Oscar nominated for her work. The funny thing about that is though out of all the actors who kind of where in the realm of being potentially nominated this year, Joel Edgerton's work is perhaps the most transformative out of all of them, the problem being it is the kind of transformative work that you need to be a little more known to begin with for most to notice. To explain, Edgerton's work here is a far cry from his performances as the sleazy FBI agent in Black Mass, or the creepy loner in his own directorial debut, The Gift. Richard is nothing like those men, and here Edgerton seeks to embody a different kind of man, far beyond merely his blond hair and crew cut.
Edgerton's work is technically speaking extremely mannered, in his attempt to fully embody this very particular sort of man. This of course relates to his consistent and authentic Virginia accent, but that's only part of it. Edgerton speaks with a low rumble, speaking as a man who only really wants those closest to him to hear him. Even the deliver itself reflects this certain idea in Edgerton's particular contortion of his mouth, fitting to a man who mostly doesn't speak. His physical approach conveys this natural reluctance towards the spotlight, a shyness to ever seek attention. What is most remarkable in all of this is how natural Edgerton makes it all feel. The way he portrays Richard is forgotten just a few minutes into the film as you quickly accept that you just merely are watching Richard. Again it is technically speaking extremely mannered turn yet Edgerton does not make seem fussy at all, strangely enough it seems decidedly non-fussy. Edgerton through his approach never seeks attention which in turn fits this man who never desires attention.
A remarkable aspect of the story is that the Lovings were not what would be considered radical at the time, and in fact didn't really seem to be all that politically minded. Their story is far simpler in nature as the two merely came from the same county of working class people who just didn't really distinguish by race. A central aspect of Edgerton's performance is this idea. He presents Richard's love for Mildred as about as pure as something can be. It is rather fascinating what Edgerton does here in that his depiction of this is so genuine in its simplicity that he even creates an understanding that the idea their marriage would get them in any real trouble never even crossed his mine. In one of Edgerton's earliest scenes we see this as Richard shows Mildred where he is going to build their future home, and where he pledges to marry her. There is something ethereal in the moment, yet it still feels entirely of this earth. Although Richard's words are minor, and Edgerton's delivery unassuming you'll find few declarations of affection that feel as honest as the one in this scene.
Looking at the film is fascinating in that the film itself seems a bit like the Lovings. In that the Lovings just wanted to just be left alone to live their life, happily married in Virginia, and the film seems like it wants most to stay just with these two people doing just that. What interferes with this though are the authorities of Virginia who repeatedly emerge in order to keep the two separated from each other. This is even handled in a fairly low key fashion, even having the racist Sheriff be relatively calm figure all things considered. Nevertheless the two still are arrested for their marriage and presented at trial. Even in the court the two basically let their lawyer do the talking but that is not to say they have nothing to say particularly Richard who only says a scant few words, and performance wise Edgerton quite frankly almost makes Chris Pine in Hell or High Water look like Denzel Washington in Fences times with just how understated he is.
Edgerton does not seem to need words because of how he embodies Richard's personality. In the first trial sequence, where Richard also is not allowed to personally bail his wife out of prison, we see Richard go from one authority to another in order to be reunited with his wife. Edgerton is outstanding in the way he creates the sense of the emotional intensity in Richard without raising his voice. In just the most slightly halted breath, a turn of his brown, and crook in his mouth you can sense the man holding back so much. There is incredible moment where Richard waits outside after a non-fortuitous trial. The distress in Edgerton is so powerful in the scene as he realizes it just in his eyes, and his bones as he is merely just smoking a cigarette. Richard stays together, but Edgerton wears the turmoil in his very being. Richard throughout his and his wife's troubles keeps the idea that above all he just wants to be left to live his life. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Richard explains this fact to Cohen, as he just asks if can just tell the judge that the "won't bother anyone". This could seem silly in its naivety but Edgerton makes it heartbreaking by making this simplicity of the demand so painfully honest.
Again though I think the film thrives most just letting us see the Lovings as they are, and Edgerton thrives within this as well. He's still quite tight lipped, but that is never to say he's not expressive. Something I love is his chemistry with Ruth Negga, which interestingly outside of their initial scene together we do not hear the two of them vocalize their love directly to one another all that often. Their love though is never in question, and not just because of those earlier scenes. I love the physical way in which Edgerton portrays his true devotion to his wife. There is such a comfort in the way they touch other, and interact. They just merely seem right in the others' embrace, they do not even need to say they love one another to each other because it is already evident without a word. Richard is a man who is more or less a constant in terms of personality. The major change in the man is just the frustrations in dealing with law against his marriage. There is something I love about Edgerton work that he realizes in this. In that throughout he does convey the underlying fear in Richard as he watches his family knowing there is a danger, but also the unease as the spotlight is shown on them. Edgerton brings the right difficulty in Richard just to withstand the press and even his own lawyers, reflective of a man who only ever just wanted to live out in the country with his family. When it is all over though, and he finally hears that a court has found in his favor, Edgerton reacts with just a simple smile. That's all he needs though, and it is such a beautiful moment since as the joy feels so genuine to this man Edgerton has shown us. This is a brilliant subtle performance by Joel Edgerton as he realizes this man and his struggle with such eloquence and a true poignancy.