Recreating an extraordinary true story, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are the beating heart of Jeff Nichols’ latest film LOVING.
If you read my blog, you may know what a big admirer I am of the writer/director Jeff Nichols. I’ve been simply blown away by his brilliance as a film-maker with his movies Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special. After reading great reviews for his latest film LOVING from its premiere at Cannes in 2016, I was very excited to see it. But it wasn’t until its arrival on-demand early last year that I was finally able to watch it. This didn’t diminish the impression the film made on me and it has stayed with me since then. It is stunning and you absolutely have to see it.
The movie tells the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple whose passion for each other in 1950s Virginia saw them flout the state law and get married. Their fight to be together as man and wife eventually saw history made when their case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1967. The result was a landmark ruling for civil rights. But whether you know the extraordinary story of these two people or not – I didn’t – what Nichols has achieved so expertly is to create a quietly understated, powerful drama which will stay long in the memory.
The struggle these two people went through to live under one roof was enormous. Years and years of being torn apart and finding a way of being reunited with the help of their friends and family. Ruth Negga as Mildred (rightly Oscar-nominated) and Joel Edgerton as Richard (wonderfully reticent) have great chemistry together so you really believe in the power of their love. These superb performances are the beating heart of the film.
Nichols’ regular collaborator, the venerable Michael Shannon, delivers a spot-on cameo as the photographer Grey Villet who’s sent from Life magazine to document the couple’s plea for justice. And there’s a trio of notable supporting performances from the brilliant Bill Camp as lawyer Frank Beazley who’s an early advocate for the Lovings, Marton Csokas as the cold-hearted local lawman Sheriff Brooks and Nick Kroll as the Loving’s American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Bernie Cohen.
The film has a beautifully muted palette of blues and browns courtesy of Adam Stone, who’s been Nichols’ director of photography on his three previous movies. And composer David Wingo, who’s created memorable scores for Nichols’ other films (in particular a really haunting one for Midnight Special) here produces a soundtrack of plaintive guitar-backed songs that tug at the heartstrings. But that’s the effect of the whole film. Tears were rolling down my face over the end credits, as the movie delivers a real emotional sucker-punch that had me reeling.
And of course, at the helm of all this, you have Nichols. He makes you feel that Mildred and Richard’s story isn’t just some piece of archaic history, but an incredibly pertinent comment on race relations in America in today. Nichols doesn’t bring the politics of the situation to the fore though but instead creates an understated, emotional drama that focuses on the people at its centre. For me, he’s joined my small but illustrious group of great American film-makers of today that includes J. C. Chandor and Bennett Miller. These are artists whose work I will not miss and LOVING is a movie that can be described in just the same way.