Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Will Dalton, Marton Csokas, Michael Shannon
If you didn’t know anything about Jeff Nichols’ Loving, the first few minutes of the film wouldn’t look any different than the beginning of a 1960’s love story between two people from small town Virginia. In his 5th film, Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) tackles his first historical story, “an important story”, he says. While Loving is corralling awards buzz for the performances of Edgerton (Midnight Special, The Gift) and Negga (Warcraft, Preacher), it’s effect as one of America’s most influential love stories goes beyond what nominations it might garner. “It’s a delicate script,” Martin Scorsese praised, as he was the first one who urged the young Austin, Texas filmmaker to look into the project.
“They are different for a reason,” Sheriff Brooks (Csokas) explains to Richard Loving (Edgerton) the first time he arrests and incarcerates them. Richard took Mildred (Negga) to Washington, DC to get married to avoid complicated red tape back in rural Virginia. When they are released from county jail, the judge gives them a choice; a year in prison for violating the law which prohibits blacks and whites from interracial marriage and conduct, or to leave the state for 25 years. Mildred, with child, is forced to leave her family and begin a new one with Richard in a noisy, unfamiliar city far from the wide open spaces. As time passes with the birth of three children, the Loving’s decide to fight the law that existed in 15 states up until 1967.
It’s effect as one of America’s most influential love stories goes beyond what nominations it might garner.
When Attorney Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) says “You realize this case could alter the constitution of the United States,” it’s cold chills. Even though we already know how this will play out, Nichols is right, it is shameful that we don’t know the story, the people and their struggle behind it. Nichols who always writes his own screenplays, this time never uses explosive court room scenes, there are no show stopping performance moments, he even joked there is no climax in Loving. Nichols has experimented with various genres horror, suspense, science fiction and drama, but his understated cinematic approach remains the singular constant. When Nichols initially explained, his version of the Loving’s would be a quiet one, Scorsese clearly knew that was the exact treatment the shy couple’s story needed.
Viewers familiar with Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s work should be able to recognize not just the obvious physical transformation into Richard Loving, but his effective restrained performance. Edgerton and Negga must convey so many feelings through minimal dialogue. Both actors do some of their best work, Edgerton’s performance second only to Warrior. Of the dialogue in the film, Negga has the most, however she will face a competitive best actress race this year that might not make room for such a subtle, albeit it powerful performance. Loving takes us back to a darker time, and even though this film abstains from much of the violence you might expect to be associated with the era, it does capture the persistent paranoia of who might be traveling down that dirt road to interfere with this family. Ultimately Loving celebrates the consistently moving legal parameters and evolution of love.
A master of subtle filmmaking, writer/director Jeff Nichols crafts one of the year’s most beautiful love stories.