I had forebodings about Jeff NicholsLoving (Focus Features, 11.4). I was concerned that a dramatization of the legal case surrounding a once-controversial interracial marriage between Mildred and Richard Loving might not amount to anything more than a rote retelling. Well, the film is better than I expected. A warm, measured, adult-level thing. I wasn’t doing handstands in the lobby but I was telling myself “hmmm, okay, not bad.”

It’s less fact-specific than I would have preferred, and there’s the usual emphasis on emotional rapport and interplay and fine, nicely underplayed performances, my favorite being Ruth Negga‘s as Mildred. And at 123 minutes it feels 10 or 15 minutes too long.

If you’re at all familiar with the facts or if you happened to catch Nancy Buirski‘s The Loving Story, a 2012 HBO doc, it’ll be hard to avoid a feeling of being narratively tied down. Alessandra Stanley‘s 2.13.12 review of Buirski’s doc is a good place to start if you’re not up on the case.

The fact that Loving is a compassionate, plain-spoken, better-than-decent film will almost certainly result in award-season acclaim, particularly some Best Actress talk for Ms. Negga’s kindly, sad-eyed wife and mom. I suspect she’s the hottest contender right now for the festival’s Best Actress prize.

Joel Edgerton‘s Southern-accented line readings are a little too actorish. Sample: “Ahm gohn build you a house…aayhehre…owhouse.” The real Richard Loving sounded like a back-country redneck, true, but he wasn’t as hard to understand because he wasn’t an Australian actor trying to sound like the Real McCoy — crucial difference.

I understood maybe 15% of what Edgerton said in the film, and that was partly because I had help with the French subtitles. In the realm of his performance there’s nary a consonant that isn’t buried, a sentence that isn’t swallowed, an utterance that isn’t yokelized. In Buirski’s doc the real Richard Loving isn’t difficult to understand at all. I’m talking about that actor-y Edgerton touch.

In his supporting performance as a racist small-town sheriff, part-Hungarian, part-Australian Marton Csokas is as hard to understand as Edgerton. Every drawly thing he says is covered in redneck puree.

The most intelligible actor in the cast is Nick Kroll, who plays the Lovings’ ACLU attorney Bernie Cohen, the guy who successfuly argued for the legitimacy of interracial marriage and the overturning of all anti-miscenegation laws in ’67. When Coen’s voice is first heard I sat up in my seat — a non-slurring northerner who respects diction!

Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga in “teaser” poster for Jeff Nichols’ Loving.