Loving tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who were arrested after becoming married, and whose relationship would culminate in the historic 1967 Supreme Court case which tore down the foundation of mixed-race marriage laws in America.
Coming from writer/director Jeff Nichols, who brought us the 1970 sci-fi throwback Midnight Special earlier this year, Loving is unlike any of the director’s previous work, and for good reason. Aside from being based on a true story, it undertakes a certain kind of sensitivity in framing its central characters that avoids nuance. In what could have been a melodramatic courtroom drama in the hands of another director, Nichols instead focuses greatly on the home-life of the couple, and the family they raise in the ensuing years. These scenes are packed with sentiment and splendor, suturing the audience into Richard and Mildred’s life.
Much of this is thanks to the outstanding and lovely performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who excel in crafting determined and emotional complexity in the simplest of dialogue or exchange of glances. Negga gets the more compassionate part of the pair, which is emphasized by her absorbing visage, though the gruffness of Edgerton’s performance works well to complement her. It would be a shock if either one does not receive much awards attention, despite being unconventional in comparison to the kinds of performances which usually do get spotlighted, but its clear that each actor is at their best here, and is deserving of recognition.
In true Jeff Nichols’ fashion, there is a small part for regular actor Michael Shannon, appearing in the second half as a photographer for LIFE magazine that helps give the couple more publicity for their case. There is also a strange piece of stunt-casting in comedic actor Nick Kroll, as the lawyer who is assigned to assist the Lovings in bringing their case to a national perspective. Seeing the actor undertake a more dramatic persona is distracting throughout, and for such a seriously-minded film, will remove some spectators out of the world of the film for the moments he is on-screen for.
Loving works because it focuses on being, simply put, a story about two ordinary people who did the extraordinary in changing the state of the nation, and who stood against the bigotry of the system they resided within. Its themes still ring true today, in its depiction of the dissonance of thought across America, and the importance of governmental power in enacting change. While it is centered around events which occurred over fifty years ago, Loving is more timely than ever, and stands to be an essential reminder of how justice can be achieved when ethics are in danger and good, loving people, set about to triumph against an unjust system.