Jeff Nichols, beloved US writer/director responsible for such recent cinematic delights as Midnight Special (2016), Mud (2012) and Take Shelter (2011), crafts another notable entry, Loving, to add to his intriguingly diverse filmography. Celebrating the life of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who spent nine years fighting for the right to live under the same roof in Virginia, Nichols crafts a minor gem. Their civil rights case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was finally overturned.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play the aforementioned Lovings and earn every ounce of praise heaped upon them. They’ve constructed complex, agile performances that effortlessly engage and move you, even if at times you feel the pace and narrative lack mobility. Michael Shannon and Marton Csokas both make admirable contributions but it’s our leading couple who provide the emotional core that stays with you long after the credits roll. It’d be a surprise to see either of them neglected this awards season.
What strikes you most about Loving is Nichols’ intent to commemorate a life lived with unwavering belief, patience and dignity with a film built upon those very foundations. The Lovings weren’t intrigued by publicity or fame, they simply wanted the right to live the life they chose. Hence, Nichols prioritizes authenticity and restraint over spectacle and bombast. Like the Lovings, his message is simple – all that matters is love. His focus is singular and pure. This is reinforced by Adam Stones‘ placid cinematography, Nichol’s own sparse, confident writing and Edgerton and Negga’s emotive central performances.
Some may feel underwhelmed, wish he’d focused on the context of the story – civil rights era – to further enhance the emotional resonance and political impact of the film, but that’s missing the point. Rightly so, it’s a snapshot of their lives, with a central message conveyed without bluster: love is all you need. It’s effective, if low key.