Loving - This Movie Rocks The Old South
Dir: Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon
Unlike the rest of us, Jeff Nichols had a very good 2016. First, he shifted gears (in some ways) and delivered the science fiction fable Midnight Special, part Spielberg homage, part all original Nichols.
Then he confirmed his place as one of contemporary American cinema’s most promising talents by taking on the hot potato that is race in the States. But not for him the polemical righteousness of Birth of a Nation, or the theatrical intensity of Fences. No, he focuses on a love story, a delicately told true life catalogue of both shame and strength, played to perfection – and trumps all comers.
Loving is the story of the Lovings – Joel Edgerton’s white man (his surname is Loving) and Ruth Negga’s black woman, who fell in love in the segregated state of Virginia in 1958. They crossed state lines to get married, but when they returned home they found themselves hounded, arrested and put on trial with a real threat of lengthy incarceration.
It is a remarkable story, but one of the great triumphs of Nichols’ film is how he more or less downplays the remarkable nature of it all. Bar a sequence where the director’s muse – Shannon of the oblong face shows up as a Life magazine photographer – Nichols concentrates his film on the struggle to, well, love, in an environment that would deny same, based solely on the affront of mixing the races. Nichols for the most part also avoids turning this into a bog standard courtroom drama, instead opting to focus on his two leads.
Edgerton is a curious actor – always good, always convincing, but always hard to warm to on screen, irrespective of the role he is playing. Here, he hunkers down in a splendidly understated way. There is no big moment for him, no dramatic outbursts – there’s not even much in the way of internal burning despite Richard Loving’s deplorable situation and treatment. Instead, he moves through the whole movie with such a quiet dignity, constantly labouring, building houses for others, knowing full well that he can never occupy one of his own. At least not with his chosen.
As said chosen, Negga has the opportunity to play it more publicly, less stoically. And does so magnificently, again, all understatement and internalisation. But so close to boiling point at so many fine, fine moments.
The Lovings’ case changed American law with all sorts of ramifications that are still being felt today.
The film Loving changes the lives of at least three people – it confirms the huge talents we’ve been seeing in Nichols over the last few years as the real deal. Edgerton earned the best notices of his caeer to date, whilst Negga secured the film's one and only Oscar nomination, for Best Actress.
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