Loving was was written and directed by Jeff Nichols and stars Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Martin Csokas and Nick Kroll.
I’m going to open by saying that this is great film making. Not good, not totally awesome, not marvelous or unbelievable or any of that. With a film like Loving, those words just don’t fit because this is a movie of simplicity and restraint in almost every single part of its production. And that is why it is powerful beyond words. No matter what I say in this review, until you see this film you won’t truly grasp the strength of its story telling.
When I reviewed Fences recently, before I’d seen Loving, I commented on how Hollywood movies tend to beat you over the head with their morality or theme. Just in case you don’t understand what the main actor is doing, there’s always some supporting actor to explain it to some extras or some ill-fitting exposition or narration which drums in to you “what this movie is really saying.” I don’t know if that is a reflection of what audiences really need, but I tend to think instead that it’s the producers and directors thinking that their audience is too stupid to understand things like cause and effect, action and consequence, and so they feel they need to explain it in the simplest possible terms. That is what makes films like Fences and especially a film like Loving so refreshing and frankly, such a moving experience.
Loving is the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an inter-racial couple who lived in Virginia but who dared to drive over state lines into Washington DC to get married in the 1958 after finding out that Mildred was pregnant. They had to do that because at that time, Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was in full force, which specifically banned any marriage between a white person and a person of any other race. This law along with an enforced Sterilization Act were implemented as part of “scientific eugenics” in Virginia and we have a man named Harry Laughlin to thank for that. There were similar laws on the books in other states as well.
Richard is a bricklayer by trade and he builds a house for his family, only to have the local sheriff roust them out and put them in jail. They are sentenced to one year in prison, but the judge suspends the sentence and exiles them for Virginia for 25 years, never allowed to return to the state together. They move to Washington DC and what ensues from there lands them in front of a lawyer with the ACLU. Eventually their case is heard in front of the Supreme Court and I don’t think it’s any big spoiler to let you know that they won and the law was deemed unconstitutional.
Jeff Nichols wrote the screenplay and directed this film. He also made Mud with Mathew Mconaughey and Midnight Special which also starred Joel Edgerton and Michael Shannon. His style is simple, slow and quiet. In fact, he said that he was shown a documentary called The Loving Story from 2011 and “from the moment it ended, I had my approach which was to concentrate on the day-to-day lives of the Lovings….I said I’m going to make a really slow, really quiet film and I don’t know if it’s gonna be the feel-good experience of the year. And there’s potential for someone to make a film like that out of this story so if you guys really want that then I’m not the right guy for you.”
I’m very thankful that producers Colin Firth, Nancy Buirski and Ged Doherty went with Nichols’ suggestions because this movie works at a level far higher than just another rousing orchestra-driven, us-against-the-system, feel-good tear jerker. In the hands of a lesser film maker, that is what this story would have become and it’s rare and wonderful to see something much better, much more pure and true-to-life be made instead.
In terms of film making, it’s clear that Nichols had a very clear vision when he put the screenplay together of how it was going to roll out. Principal photography only took a little over a month and it was shot in Virginia, beautifully capturing the rural country and absolutely accurate as a period piece. But it’s the acting where this movie lives and breathes. There are no stereotypes in this movie. Every character is based on a real person, not some amalgamation or artificial character that was created to make the movie more dramatic or make the story flow better. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of the way Hollywood does that most of the time, with the recent film Hidden Figures being a rare exception. Make no mistake, costume and set design choices are driven by what is going to look good and what is going to move the story forward, but in Loving it’s all done so subtly that I was never distracted by any of it. I literally felt that I was watching a documentary where the cameramen just happened to be at exactly the right place and time to put together a major motion picture from their efforts. The actors and actresses in this film were not playing their parts; they were those people.
A special mention needs to be made for Ruth Negga who is the only member of this production to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. I haven’t yet seen all the other films so I can’t comment yet on the other actresses in this category, but her portrayal of Mildred Loving is something special to watch. Like everything else here, it’s so smooth and so understated that you literally forget that you are watching a movie and I don’t think there is any higher compliment that can be paid to an actor or actress.
All in all, by every metric I can think of, Loving deserves a rating of Sheer Awesomeness. If you haven’t seen this film, you absolutely should. You definitely will not be sorry.
As always, if you haven’t yet subscribed to my channel now is a great time to do so. I’ll be getting to all the rest of the Oscar-nominated movies very soon on my channel, so stay tuned here for those as well as reviews of new and upcoming movies. Please like and share this review around the interwebs and thank you for watching. I’ll see you next time.