‘Loving’ v. Nichols (Movie Review)

loving thumbWith Loving there comes a certain expectation that writer/director Jeff Nichols is not out to provide. The historical drama surrounds an event that led to the invalidation of state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. This seems like the typical kind of film to automatically receive awards consideration. Regardless of if it does or doesn’t, Nichols is not that kind of filmmaker. Following Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special, there is a definite low-key style to how he approaches his films, regardless of genre, and that once again applies to Loving, which does little to sensationalize a story that actually led to a change in constitutional law.


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Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star as Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple who begin the film by getting married outside of their home state of Virginia in 1958. Their interracial marriage violates Virginia state law, leading to the couple to be arrested and belittled by Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) and other members of law enforcement. Eventually the Lovings are forced to leave the state, but certain actions lead to a series of legal proceedings to fight against the state and take the case to the Supreme Court.

There is inevitability to how a story like this essentially has to play out, given the historical context, but Nichols is more interested in the Lovings. However, rather than showing them as fearless crusaders, he allows Edgerton and Negga to play up the qualities that are more likely true to who the Lovings actually were. Edgerton’s Richard is a quiet man who is good with his hands, using them to provide for his family. All he wants is to be with his wife and raise a family. The idea of being a part of history has little concern for him, aside from the benefit of not being harassed for bigoted reasoning.

Negga’s Mildred is a bit more forward in letting the audience know what she wants. She is a bit mousy, but also knows how to be assertive when the time calls for it. While the first half of the film focuses more on the pain she suffers in having no options, the second half gives her a chance to become more alive, once a new solution presents itself. The character gets to both take on a chance to make things right, while also sticking by her husband every step of the way, as the Lovings truly are a loving couple.

Defying expectation, Nichols takes turns when it comes to producing certain characters and leading the story to its eventual steps. Perhaps Csokas is a bit on the nose, as far as being a central character to focus so much unreasonable racism around, but I like how the film minimalizes its villainy and keeps focus on those stepping on the right side of history. More notable, as far as interesting direction, is Nick Kroll, otherwise known as fairly wild comedian, portraying the Loving’s ACLU-assigned lawyer Bernie Cohen. Rather than being shown as a hotshot lawyer with all the answers, we immediately learn that this man is a bit in over his head.

The film may have a character like this, who is later joined by another lawyer, but Loving does not even try to provide an explosive courtroom scene as the film’s climax. There are reasons for this, but again, this is a film that is much more concerned with attempting to visualize the emotional state of the Lovings. While Negga has only more recently been found on the film scene (her more notable credits are on TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Preacher), she emblemizes a character that is stronger for her resolve than may be perceived from the outside. Edgerton, who I have been quite the fan of, continues to be a master of understated reserve and expressions that say far more than words could.

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Understated is a specialty of Nichols and while he does a wonderful job of handling the period details, his film is a quiet study of two people with a deep relationship with one another. One scene featuring Nichols’ regular Michael Shannon does a fine job of showing just how great this relationship is, as Shannon portrays an outsider with a job to capture what is special between them. A film like Loving succeeds in a moment like this, because the film is hardly about emphasizing a level of sappiness or melodrama. Instead, it provides a human drama that is not anxious to prove anything.

I started this review by mentioning how the film features the kind of subject matter that would tend to stand out in awards season. A historical drama focused on race and how laws and moral understandings have changed, which no doubt reflects the world of today in numerous ways, has that kind of draw. Loving is very good for how it decides to handle this material, even if it is at the detriment of appearing as something more showy for that sort of highly touted acclaim. It matters little though, as this deliberately paced drama has all it needs to garner a high reputation and keeps a true, loving relationship a key to its success.

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