Reviewed by Nicholas Vandeloecht
Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols, is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s D.C./Virginia region and stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose struggle to stay together in their native state of Virginia resulted in the groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling that declared the state ban on interracial marriages to be unconstitutional. At the start of the movie, Mildred reveals to Richard that she’s pregnant, and then from there we get moments showing how in love they are and also how they get married in D.C. because that kind of stuff is considered “no bueno” in the State of Virginia. This is the Commonwealth! We believe in robins staying with robins and sparrows staying with sparrows! No filthy mixes! Well, someone we never find out about tips off the local deputies, who arrest Richard and Mildred for being a married white and black couple. They take a guilty plea that forces them to leave the State of Virginia should they choose to preserve their marriage, which they do. And from there, we get the story of the factors that bring them back to Virginia and the people who help them stay there without fear of persecution via the famous Loving v. Virginia ruling. I will admit, I came into this movie fearing a sappy rendition of this historic case, but what I got instead was a delicious capture of a timeless rural region and some of its quiet, country-dwelling inhabitants. Edgerton and Negga transform into these soft-spoken yet powerfully magnetic personalities that just radiate goodness. They’re understated in all the right ways. Richard’s shyness whenever the media came around and Mildred’s reluctance yet quiet acceptance of the attention they were getting felt very, very real, particularly when taking where they are in account. I grew up in Essex County which borders two of the principal settings in the movie: Caroline County and King and Queen. The cinematography, lack of music and easygoing way of the mains really does capture the personality of that region, and even without knowing the Loving’s, I’ve met people similar to them from my occupation as a member the local media in that area, and their interactions with the photographer and reporters are as real as they get. The individual performances are all strong and believable. Michael Shannon comes in and slays it as Grey Villet, a photographer for LIFE who in the movie shows a great deal of respect for the couple in the way he captures their life together in pictures. The family of Mildred and Richard’s mother are all fantastically done. It’s amazing how little they do at times and how easy still it is for the audience to pick up how they feel about certain situations.
There were really only two issues I had with the film. The first was that Nick Kroll gives a very wooden performance in one scene as ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen and ultimately doesn’t do enough through the movie to quiet the general feeling of critics that he was miscast in the role. The other issue is not something I necessarily had trouble with, but could be seen as a turn-off for a lot of viewers. This movie is a slow burn – it’s got even pacing but I can see it feeling very sluggish and too muted for some. I wrote in another review that sometimes the depiction of a real-life story true to how it happened doesn’t always make for entertaining movie material, and this film accurately portrays its two leads as a quiet couple. The reason I feel it works it because a) it’s not grating in the way that some true story depictions can feel, and b) there’s always something happening in Loving, even if it’s not heavily dramatic or moving. You see a lot of Richard laying down bricks for homes as part of his job, but usually those scenes will combine with something else going on in his life, whether it’s his rush to get somewhere or the paranoia he feels over feeling unwelcome in his home state because of his relationship with his life. There’s also a wonderful balance struck between the two main characters. After a lot of heavy focus on Richard early on, I was afraid that Mildred would disappear into the background, but over the middle she becomes the driving force for the story and the events that bring them back to Virginia and result in their case being heard. There’s a couple of villainous performances that feel believable. Marton Csokas’ performance as the sheriff that raids their home and arrests the Loving’s is quietly menacing. His gravelly voice intimidates as he oozes out a rationale that is racist, yet is an argument you can see real people in today’s world using. It’s ugly, but it’s real. The racism in this movie doesn’t feel over-the-top save the one scene in the trailer with the four white dudes in front of their car. You still despise these guys, but you do it because these are people you can actually come across in the streets.
There was a little uncertainty from some about how well the couple sold their romance, but I feel they actually did a little more than I was expecting in displaying their affection given how quiet they were. There was a lot of routine hugging between the two characters which I felt was a little forced by the story, but I thought they worked very well as a married couple. It’s a well-shot movie with well-cut scenes and a casual atmosphere that matches Loving’s country-paced tone. There are some musical swells, but the overall lack of music actually works extremely well in that it prevents any sap from seeping into this true-life story. Loving is exactly the kind of film we need in a time that feels extremely divisive and dominated by hatred on all sides. It’s got a lot of loving, and ultimately it’s a movie worth going to see in the theatres. If you’re okay with some slow burn and you don’t need a lot of dramatics, then you’re going to love this one. RDR gives it an 8.3 out of 10.