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“Loving” takes a minor-key approach to a major-key story.

The film deals with the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision that wiped out laws prohibiting interracial marriage. It’s the kind of big story that Hollywood would typically tell using booming orchestral swells and Matthew McConaughey shouting and pounding his fist in a sweaty Southern courtroom, and then pat itself on the back for telling in a respectful manner.

“Loving” is not that movie. Writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Mud”) doesn’t make those kinds of films, and “Loving” is a delicate, gentle film, almost to a fault.

Richard Loving (a muted Joel Edgerton) is a reticent man in 1950s Virginia who works on cars, builds foundations on homes and loves his wife, Mildred, (Ruth Negga, glorious), whom he marries in front of a justice of the peace in Washington, D.C. He wants to build her a house and raise their three children. Nothing fancy about it.

But when authorities bust into his home one night and arrest him and his wife for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation statutes, it begins a prolonged legal battle that stretches the better part of a decade.

As Loving, Edgerton stiffens his shoulders and slumps his spine, physically wearing his character’s unassuming nature. Negga, her big eyes like two supermoons, is similarly graceful in a performance that ranks among the year’s best.

Nichols is one of today’s finest rural storytellers, and he never wavers in his approach, going small where others would go grandiose. “Loving” is an exercise in restraint befitting the quiet couple at its center.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Loving’

GRADE: B+

Rated PG-13: for thematic elements

Running time: 123 minutes

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