Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll
Director: Jeff Nichols
Running Time: 123 mins
Loving is an American film about the true case of Loving v. Virgina, where a white man and woman were exiled from their home state for forming an interracial marriage. However, as the Civil Rights Movement gains momentum through the 1960s, their situation regains attention, leading them to appeal to the Supreme Court.
There have been a fair few Civil Rights dramas over the years, but what makes Loving one of the best ones is that it takes a slightly different approach to telling the story. Whilst its main message is the same, one of the injustices that people suffered due to racial discrimination at the time, this film decides to give a very intimate look at two people whose lives were affected so much, something that gives it stronger and more tender emotion than a wide-scale Civil Rights biopic.
For starters, I want to talk about the way this film starts. Given that its focus is more centred on the relationship between husband and wife Richard and Mildred, you’d think that there would be a set up phase where they meet and fall in love, allowing you to form a stronger emotional connection with them.
However, in what is by far the best move of the entire film, we’re plunged straight into the middle of things, just days before they encounter the first instance of prejudice against their marriage. What makes that work so well is that you take the strength of their love and their relationship as a given, having only ever seen them so close, and because the first threat to the sanctity of their marriage comes so soon, it feels a lot more like you’ve been robbed of a blissfully happy couple than one you would have judgments of based on any setup phase.
It sounds like a strange comment to make, but it’s a striking way to open a film, and definitely played a big part in immediately getting me on side for what is quite a slow-paced, quiet and heavy-going film, something that doesn’t work out so well very often.
When it comes to the following two acts, I can’t say that we ever get the same level of emotional drama again, but what keeps the film interesting is the fact that it has such an intimate focus on Richard and Mildred. Unlike many films before it, it’s not all about whether their relationship will survive such turmoil, but instead how the two characters feel both individually and as a couple as a result of the injustice they suffer.
So, that means that this isn’t necessarily the film for a history buff looking for all the facts, but nor is it a sappy romance. In the end, Loving is actually one of the most personal films of the year, but that makes it a very memorable watch, and whilst its subject matter does make for some heavy-going drama at times, it’s engrossing from start to finish.
The performances here are very good too. Joel Edgerton, whilst not always the easiest to understand, does a great job at portraying Richard Loving. A complex character who’s both very introverted and yet very passionate about his wife, Edgerton makes that abundantly clear on screen, making Richard a particularly interesting character to follow. Alongside Edgerton is Ruth Negga, who, as the film goes on, begins to take a more central role in proceedings.
For her first major motion picture leading role, this is a very good turn from Negga, as she owns the screen in numerous dialogue sequences, and her character’s strength in the face of adversity, particularly in comparison to her husband, shines through brilliantly in Negga’s performance, which made her the character that I really took to and wanted to succeed in the legal battles.
If there is one issue with this film, then it is the fact that the events depicted don’t quite have the impact that I felt they warrant. I said earlier that this film’s more intimate focus instead of a wider historical context was a positive, and I stand by that, however there were moments when I felt that the legendary and seismic nature of this case, the one that overturned laws against interracial marriage in the US Constitution, wasn’t quite as strong as it could have been.
Overall, I thought Loving was a very interesting film that used its closely intimate focus very well. Starting off with a bang, it’s an engrossing watch from start to finish, and provides a different story to most Civil Rights dramas, albeit just missing a little more emphasis on the historical importance of its events. Its performances are excellent too, making its central characters fascinating to follow, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.7.