The Supreme Court case of Loving vs Virginia was a landmark ruling, one that stands out in US history. Loving is often cited as the defining moment when long standing miscegenation laws came to an end and interracial marriage began to gain a greater degree of social acceptance. While the case is very famous, the story of the actual couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, is not as well known. I was therefore intrigued that a movie had been made about the people behind this historic case.
What I didn’t realize is that this film is also the latest movie by director Jeff Nichols, a director who may be of interest to genre fans because of his last movie, Midnight Special, and to indie movie fans from his 2012 film Mud. As with these previous entries, Loving is a slow, understated, somewhat cerebral examination of human behaviors in the Deep South. Just as Midnight Special had a meditative quality mixed with tension, as a boy with supernatural powers found himself on the run from government agents, Loving finds a similar mixture of the ethereal with an underlying tone of menace. The protagonists of this film are criminals, guilty of the crime of love, and while there is a beauty in their lives together there is a constant underlying paranoia as they are forced to live under the threat of violence and imprisonment.
Jeff Nichols is not a filmmaker whose work has been overtly political and it was interesting to see his take on a hot button social issue. While the expectation of a film like this might be that of a story where a hapless Romeo and Juliet flagrantly defy societal norms and are rescued by valiant ACLU lawyers, Nichols’ story is much more nuanced. Richard Loving is portrayed as a man genuinely surprised by the outcry caused by his marrying a black wife, and someone who wants nothing more than to be left alone to raise his family in private. Mildred Loving is portrayed as someone who is much more open to making their love a cause in the media and the Courts. At times Mildred appears as a woman standing on her own, talking into cameras and microphones as her husband hides in the back room. The ACLU lawyers who take the case come off as weaselly and opportunistic. They seem less concerned for the plight of this family, and the effect all this attention will have on them, and more concerned with “making it” by bringing a big, society-changing case to the Supreme Court. The people in their lives are shown going through various stages of acceptance and anger over the impact this marriage takes on their family members. And the Virginia sheriff who arrests them is comes off as a downright cold and terrifying presence.
On the whole I thought this was quite a good movie. It was different than I expected, much more understated and less in your face. I appreciated the pacing, the serene quiet thoughtfulness mixed with an underlying feeling of dread. The performances were top-notch, and the images have stuck with me. This is a well-done and recommended movie.
Rating: Four out of Five Stars
From acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, Loving celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry – and their love story has become an inspiration to couples ever since
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Terri Abney, Alano Miller, Jon Bass and Michael Shannon
Written and Directed by: Jeff Nichols