Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Chris Greene, Bill Camp, Martin Csokas, Sharon Blackwood, and Michael Shannon.
Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married
Before even diving into Loving, let’s get one piece of business out of the way first; Jeff Nichols is one of the best and most interesting directors of the generation. Earlier this year he released Midnight Special (his first crack at science fiction, telling a road trip story about a young alien boy with potentially dangerous powers he doesn’t quite understand) which was already wildly different than anything he has ever done before. Now here he is putting to screen the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, and their battle against the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.
If there’s anything that the contents of Nichols’ filmography do share however, it’s the rural settings and his knack to wring out some beautiful shot composition out of the green pastures that make up the landscape. A good portion of Loving has the couple driving back and forth between Virginia and Washington D.C. for various reasons, and Nichols enjoys making these quiet moments on the road stand out. It could be due to Richard and Mildred expressing numerous thoughts and emotions toward one another without even saying much of anything, or the aforementioned background scenery which is gorgeously captured. The movie also casts a contrast between rural living and city life, as the law forced the Lovings to pack their bags and leave the state for 25 years. Yes, all this because a white man married a black woman; holy shit we as a society should be ashamed of some of the laws we had back in the day.
Moving along, even though Mildred sends a letter to Bobby Kennedy explaining their situation with hopes that some rights will be wronged, Loving is not a movie about courtroom drama and lengthy dialogue exchanges between lawyers trying to one-up each other. Nichols doesn’t do traditional storytelling (something he should always be commended for), instead choosing to focus on the day-to-day life of Richard and Mildred Loving. The decision even makes sense from a narrative perspective as we quickly learn that Richard does not enjoy the public eye or publicity at all; all he wants is to live his life peacefully with his wife and children. And he should be allowed that right, because as he says, nothing they’re doing is hurting anyone.
Loving is a very quiet and nuanced film, choosing to explore the dynamics of the relationship between Richard and Mildred. Instead of presenting the situation as something larger-than-life (which is actually ironic, because their case did affect a lot in the end), much of the movie is simply watching these two start a family and grow over the course of 10 years or so. Furthermore, it’s not a dialogue heavy film, but when characters do speak to one another, it’s assuredly to send a powerful message to both one other and the audience. A particular exchange between Richard and his mother is heartbreaking.
As you would expect from everything mentioned so far, Loving boasts some tremendous Oscar-worthy performances from both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. Starting with Joel, he is a handyman mechanic/construction site worker (he builds their house) that mumbles his way through every line with a heavy Virginian accent, which might seem problematic from an outside perspective, except he nails being able to speak with that strong of a drawl while always being clearly audible to the audience. As for Ruth, she is also very quiet, but a compassionate and tender soul who refuses to be broken by the unruly laws forced upon her.
What both actors have in common however is their ability to make us strongly sympathetic to their plight from body language alone. There’s a scene early in the film where the couple are driving through an urban town, being ogled at for how abnormal their relationship was at the time, and during the slow drive Richard and Mildred turn to each other and lock hands. It’s just one of many beautiful moments that allow viewers to feel the emotional pain and suffering that the two are coping with.
At one point, Michael Shannon drops by (because it just wouldn’t be a Jeff Nichols film without him) for a quick scene portraying a Life magazine reporter/photographer, doing a story on the couple (this is after Mildred’s letter is read by Bobby Kennedy and their case gains traction, along with publicity). And it’s in these brief moments where the message of Nichols’ film shines brightest; these are just two people living a normal life and raising children like every other family. Nichols has some done something wildly unconventional by taking a film about racial segregation and focusing on everything but that and the courtroom, with the result being a powerful slice-of-life film about a family doing their best to ignore the garbage hand they have been dealt, so that they can push on and live their lives. Loving is touchingly tender and one of the most emotionally moving films of 2016, all thanks to its extreme subtly.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★