I had slight forebodings about whether Jeff NicholsLoving (Focus Features, 11.4), a dramatization of the once-controversial interracial marriage between Mildred and Richard Loving would 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.”

On the other hand the cricket mafia has given Loving a 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a 77% on Metacritic.

Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga in Jeff Nichols’ Loving.

Loving is a bit slowish and 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 maybe 15 minutes too long. And 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.

But Loving is a compassionate, plain-spoken, better-than-decent film that will amost certainly pick up some award-season acclaim, particularly some Best Actress talk for Ms. Negga’s kindly, sad-eyed wife and mom.

But Edgerton’s vocal delivery drove me nuts. I understood maybe 15% or 20% of what he said in the film. 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 was first heard I sat up in my seat — a non-slurring northerner who respects diction!

Alessandra Stanley‘s 2.13.12 review of Buirski’s doc is a good place to start if you’re not entirely up on the case.