Loving tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose unlawful interracial marriage and subsequent court case resulted in the federal ban on anti-miscegenation laws in the US.
It sounds like perfect Oscar-bait material, but director Jeff Nichols takes a surprisingly low-key approach – lingering takes and silence take precedence over flashy camerawork and rousing speeches. Nichols even resists the temptation of utilising the incredibly absurdly apt titular surname.
The director’s outlook is both refreshing and appropriate considering the real couple’s reluctance to be the heroes in such a historic event. The leads give beautifully controlled performances: Joel Edgerton as an uncertain Richard and Ruth Negga a quietly optimistic Mildred. Negga in particular shines in an emotional but never showy performance which has earned her an Oscar nomination.
It takes a long time for the famous legal case to get going, but when it does, it takes a backseat to the Lovings’ quiet domestic life. When the civil rights lawyers (Nick Kroll and Jon Bass) eventually turn up they feel out of place, like something out of a more clichéd historical drama. Even the Supreme Court case itself is largely played out in the background.
Nichols has obviously gone to great lengths to try and create a personal story of individuals caught up in something greater than them. It’s not particularly memorable, but there’s a lot to admire here – it’s a well-made, intimate exploration of family life and the impact of the press on unwilling subjects.
Overall, however, the film is too cautious. This is the kind of story that we should scream and shout about – Loving tells it with a whisper.
Image: Gage Skidmore