Director: Jeff Nichols
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon
Runtime: 123 Minutes
Through his films, Jeff Nichols has been able to explore the solidarity and endurance of the human spirit in the face of socio-political conflict; with Loving he brings his attention to the Loving v Virginia case of 1967. Although arriving primed for the awards season, the film battles against the will of convention and cliché with his calmer dramatic roots, and manages to sustain his distinctive allure and aesthetic moderation.
Although shaped around the momentous turning point that was a landmark civil right decision – invalidating the laws prohibiting interracial marriage – Nichols understands where the real conflict and the focus of the story should truly lie; in the hands of those at the centre of it. Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) keep to themselves, they were humble people whose only instigation for such action came down to the fact that they wanted to return home.
The tension of the conflict doesn’t just develop from the external forces of prejudice that descend upon them – although Nichols is expectedly excellent with these early scenes – but the emotional toll that it takes on the two lead characters who want nothing more than to be able to raise their family in peace in their own home. The stress of the situation feels real when seen through the eyes of the aptly named couple, and the film chooses not the dwell on the social or political strain as much as it does the way in which they process it together.
Nichols direction is still unexpectedly touching, soft and calm, but the film might not work for some because of its lack of serious engagement with the meat of the conflict. This is not a film about moments and leading by example, it’s a more like a mood piece that is being led by the performances of Edgerton and Negga. They remain engaging through their dedicated and supple visions of these people, with both delivering some of their best ever work as they absorb the blows of a story with such a relevant subject matter.
There are some good supporting performances from the Nick Kroll as attorney Bernie Cohen, and a well-attuned Marton Csokas as the locally feared Sheriff Brooks, but the scene-stealer is Michael Shannon as LIFE Magazine photographer Grey Villet, who enters the film to alleviate the mounting anxiety.
Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom might be a decent companion piece at the other end of the spectrum; a film of charged performances, aggressive standing and loud proclamation this is not. Loving isn’t perfect, there are moments where the tone shifts into more prominent but less effective places, but it is an emotive and worthy low-key drama that will prolong Nichols place toward the bow of American filmmaking for years to come.