Loving

Has Jeff Nichols crafted an intimate masterpiece?

Loving

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 2 hrs 3 mins

Director: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Alano Miller and Nick Kroll

(QFT, Belfast, Press Screening 31/01/17)

Synopsis

The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court.

I know we have some enemies. But we have some friends, too

Review

Roughly 20 minutes into Loving I was reminded of a simple refrain from a Charles Bukowski poem that states  “People are not good to each other”. It’s true, we are not good to each other. Human beings still continue to amaze in this field as we seem to find new ways to be despicable to one another. One of the oldest ways is how some of us like to divide others by skin colour. It’s terribly uninspired but also (still to this day) terribly popular.  Loving is a beautifully direct and simple story of extraordinary courage but also resistance. A resistance borne out of a simple act: Love.

The film recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black woman who in 1958 flouted Virginia state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. They are threatened with jail and eventually have to leave the state only to return to fight their case; a case which goes all the way to the Supreme Court.

From the very first shot, there is an air of intimacy and authenticity as director Jeff Nichols frames a pensive Mildred (Ruth Negga) in close-up as she reveals to Richard (Joel Edgerton) that she is pregnant. It’s a beautifully shot scene with minimal intrusion from the score. There’s no need for any embellishments as the subtlety and beauty of the acting do all the work that is required.

And the acting from Negga and Edgerton is of the highest calibre. They both put in truly magnificent performances. It’s not showy, it’s not over the top, it’s just truthful. The look that Negga gives Edgerton when she finds out the result of the Supreme Court case is so utterly moving, it is a masterclass in acting.

Negga is Irish and Edgerton is Australian but if you didn’t know about their respective nationalities, you would swear they were natives of Virginia. The characters feel real and lived in and the attention to detail of the period is so well done, you really do feel as if you are back in that era.

Beautifully shot by Adam Stone, there aren’t any sweeping grand shots of the Virginian countryside, just simple wide shots that effortlessly show the natural beauty of the landscape. The camera moves in an almost languid way so the scenes are allowed room to breathe and as a result, you are fully immersed in this quietly beautiful and at times devastating drama.

 

Nichols said prior to filming that he hoped to make this story “a painfully beautiful film” and not only has he done that but he has crafted an unobtrusive and moving masterpiece. For those who felt a little lukewarm about Nichols’ previous film, the patchy but interesting Midnight Special, this is not only a return to form for Nichols but he’s made his best film and a future classic.

Regular Nichols collaborators Adam Stone and David Wingo (cinematography and score respectively) do superb work that shows restraint and confidence in the performances of the actors. Wingo’s synth assisted string score is gorgeous but never gets in the way and wonderfully complements Stone’s understated but direct cinematography. Credit also has to go to Nichols as a writer as he has such a vivid understanding of the era, the area and his characters. These are just regular people fighting an inhumane system and in a scene that perfectly encapsulates that sentiment, Nick Kroll’s (yes, that Nick Kroll) ACLU attorney asks Edgerton’s Richard a simple question that is met with a strikingly poignant answer:

“Is there anything you’d like me to say to the Supreme Court Justices of the United States?

Yeah, tell the judge I love my wife.”

It is one of the best scenes in the movie and so unassumingly heart-breaking that you have to remind yourself that this is very recent history. The film is, in many respects, a perfect companion piece to Ava DuVernay’s equally devastating and eye opening documentary 13TH. Both deal with race but also resistance and the necessity of resistance in times when dark and malevolent forces seek to divide and degrade. But what Loving shows us, and it’s an important message, is that no matter how hopeless things seem, love prevails when we persist and fight for what we know in our hearts is right and decent. By the film’s end, I was again reminded of lines from the same Bukowski poem:

there must be a way.

surely there must be a way that we have not yet
thought of.

who put this brain inside of me?

it cries
it demands
it says that there is a chance.

it will not say
“no.”

Verdict

Amidst the current glut of superhero movies, Loving is a timely reminder that real superheroes don’t wear capes or have super powers. This is a film about everyday people showing grace and dignity in the face of unrelenting bigotry and seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s about the need to stand up and resist those forces that seek to divide and destroy. Forget all the Oscar-bait movies doing the rounds, Loving is a truly brilliant film that you need to see.

Review by Gavin Moriarty
(@sunkicksout)

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