Jeff Nichols has long been a director worth watching, making his way through the ranks of the “Great American Director” title applied to filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and David Lynch. With the historical romance “Loving,” Nichols has earned the title of a master filmmaker.
Based on the 1967 Supreme Court case “Loving vs. Virginia,” which finally, rightfully made interracial marriage legal — the film follows multiple years of the quiet but unbreakable love and marriage between Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man and a Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), a Black woman.
Living in the small town of Central Point, Virginia, Richard asks Mildred to marry him once they learn they have their first child on the way. Knowing that it is illegal to marry in Virginia because of the anti-miscegenation laws, the couple travels to Washington, D.C., to legally cement their love.
But shortly after they return home, their house is broken into by the police and the two are sent off to prison. They are told they must leave the state upon making bail and their families and communities behind if they want to stay married.
Through the awful restrictions placed upon this couple that wants nothing more than to just live their lives peacefully, with their family in their home state, Nichols makes a film that is incomparably relevant to the race relations that still plague our country and runs parallel to the struggles LGBTQ+ communities face regarding marriage equality rights.
While we know this story thankfully ends with positive results, with the subtle direction from Nichols and the exquisite performances from Edgerton and Negga, we feel even the most minute of struggles that the couple face.
The actors portray the couple’s undying love in the face of constant police and state oversight telling them that their marriage is not right or ordained by God. Edgerton’s performance is all about his eternal state, never forcing emotions but nonetheless showing his love for his wife and the quiet pain he feels.
In a late scene, Richard is told by some of his Black friends that he has gotten Mildred in a situation she didn’t deserve one that Richard could easily get out of due to the white supremacy in America being around since it was founded on imperialism. Edgerton breaks down in front of Negga, repeating the line “I can take care of you.” He knows his friends are right, but he also knows he will never leave her side. The heart-breaking scene should earn Edgerton an Oscar nomination.
Negga is the true standout of the film, not only because she has more lines of dialogue than Edgerton, but also because she radiates grace amid even the harshest of governmental policies positioned against them. Negga will likely get an Oscar nomination for this work, as it is rare to see a performance so reliant on physical mannerisms and unsaid determination more so than grandstanding.
It is through Mildred’s actions of reaching out to Robert Kennedy that she is referred to ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll), where the couple slowly but surely begins to fight against the political systems in place. Neither of them are particularly vocal, opting to allow the simplicity of their love to become the symbol for the legalization of interracial marriage.
While knowing the outcome of the story tends to hurt the emotional impact of a historical drama, through Nichols’ no-frills direction, which relies on the beauty of the story, the strength of the actors and accurate period details, “Loving” is a masterpiece that never rings untrue. Nichols cements himself not as a mainstream-focused entertainer, but instead a more Euro-styled artist that relies on the engagement of its audience to enjoy its more languid pace.
It has been safe to say Nichols was a great filmmaker prior to “Loving,” but with this film, there’s no doubting that he is a true master. Twenty-five years from now, “Loving” will stand as testament of how to tell a moving true story with honest emotion and incomparable beauty — just like the Supreme Court case now stands as an example of how love trumps hate.
Levi Hill is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].