Jeff Nichols is a director I, in a sense, just stumbled upon. In an effort to watch more diverse types of films, I wandered into the local arthouse theater to check out his 2011 film Take Shelter. I immediately was awestruck by his talent. To this day, I implore you to see that film if you haven’t. Since then he has paradoxically made a name for himself in the cinema landscape with overlooked gems. He made the criminally under appreciated Mud in 2012. He then went silent for a couple years before it was announced he was helming two new films. Nichols was behind the camera for yet another forgotten about gem in this years sci-fi outing Midnight Special. However, that other film Nichols was working on was Loving. Now, his work won’t go over looked. With Loving, Nichols has crafted a timely film that certainly will earn him the recognition he deserves. He has finally made his name for himself with a film that soon won’t be forgotten.
Loving, also written by Nichols, stars Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll and Michael Shannon and tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The couples struggle to earn their civil right to marry is based on the landmark Superme Court case of Loving v. Virginia. The Loving’s, an interracial couple living in Virginia in the 1950s, decide to get married. This is an action that doesn’t congrue with Virginia state law at the time and the couple is banned from the state. Soon, the Loving’s begin to challenge the law by taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court to decide their case. With the help of their lawyer, the shy and quiet Loving’s live their normal live in less than normal circumstances.
Loving is a plotting but ultimately very satisfying film. The Loving’s were around at a time when America wasn’t the shining beacon of equality it was pegged to be. The couple is fiercely ripped out of bed by police to juxtapose their seemingly benign existence. Nichols does a brilliant job setting up this story and showing the racial tension on display during the time period. Nichols had never previously adapted a non-fiction story always opting to pursue originality. Here, he choose to treat this story with the utmost dignity and creates a film very aware of the immense value this story possess while never losing sight of the personalities of its characters. It helps that his two leads give incredibly rich performances to add the films authenticity.
Edgerton has always given it his all in everything he’s in. Even the less than stellar but still enjoyable, I thought, Jane Got A Gun. Edgerton adopts southern sensibilities and a tenderness unmatched by other films in this genre. Richard Loving is an understated man, with a sensitive side and portrays a different side of masculinity than we’ve seen in most films. In a way, that is a central theme of the movie, taking stereotypes and busting them alongside the enveloping feel of love these two had for each other. Richard is a very simple man of pure values and morals. He is altogether not a very outspoken man, but is tough, albeit maybe not all that educated, and stands by his values. Edgerton employs a genuine southern accent that adds another full-bodied layer to his award worthy performance. It just may be the best of his career.
Ruth Negga is also excellent in the film. She too delivers a highly nuanced performance with grace and a rare sense of subtlety. Negga has made a career of side roles and this certainly seems to be a breakout vehicle for her. She doesn’t have much dialogue to speak of but she does a lot of acting with body language and her eyes. It takes tremendous amount of talent to convey complex emotions with a simple gaze.
One of the most authentic things about this film is that it takes its time. It is void of the big dramatic speeches and melodramatic courtroom drama you’d find in a film about this subject matter. While those moments are quite often powerful, there is something to subdued drama that really works in these historical, prestige type pictures. We, as a viewer, feel that this film is not rushing to those big moments. Rather, it is a slow building and thought provoking drama that tackles complex issues with grace.
There is a distinct irony to this film as well. Richard is often reprimanded for marrying Mildred. The people in his life see it as a selfish act that has negative repercussions on his life and those around him because of the laws in place. Yet, on the surface, their love should be seen as devotion to one another and not be scolded. Richard is a man of conviction and is dedicated to providing for his wife. He tells his lawyer that all he wants the judge to know is that he loves his wife and no one is going to stop him from doing that.
Nichols adds to the subtlety of the film by carefully selecting shots that mimic the progress of their case. Working in construction, Richard is often seen building things brick by brick. In the end, that is how the Loving’s build their case. Nichols’s film shows history unfolding in an honest way. It is a long run for the Loving’s to win their case and earn their spot in history, Nichols respects that, and he is able to convey that sentiment in a way that doesn’t ever feel artificial. The film is also backed by a wonderful and fittingly subdued score.
Loving works as a film about love, race and the importance of this case in history. Nichols doesn’t give us a film that pounds us on the head with its importance. Instead, it is a film that shows even in tremendous odds, conviction is important. Richard never strays from the path or questions the motives of their journey. He and his wife are an ordinary couple striving to live an ordinary life at a time when their situation was anything but. Nichols cements himself as one of the up and coming film makers who after years of being passed over, has delivered maybe not his best work, but an overall solid entry into his already diverse filmography. Much like Nichols, the events of Loving have been passed over by history. But in a way, the two were a perfect fit and come together to create one of 2016’s best films.