Last year Jeff Nichols brought us the critically acclaimed original sci-fi drama ‘Midnight Special’. Clearly not one to be typecast as a director his latest project; ‘Loving’ tells the true story of Richard & Mildred Loving and their struggle against discrimination. Only a few months ago director Amma Asante brought us the engaging politically charged romantic drama ‘A United Kingdom’. That film dealt with many similar themes, so could ‘Loving’ manage the same?
Starring in the film is previous collaborator of Nichols, Joel Edgerton who plays Richard Loving. Edgerton is magnificent in the role, adopting the various quirks and mannerisms of the real life man he is portraying. Whilst at times it can be difficult to make out all of his dialogue I feel credit is due to the commitment shown to delivering his lines in such a thick Virginian twang. Richard’s wife, Mildred is played by the Oscar-nominated actress Ruth Negga. She is also very good in her role, often saying a lot without using many words. In several ways this is quite a subtle performance from the actress, clearly suited to the nature of the real life woman that she is portraying. Both Edgerton & Negga work together to create an authentic chemistry essential for the success of the film. However, I do think that the film would have benefited from more scenes at the beginning of the run time setting up this relationship. I wanted to know a little more of the background of the couple rather than just being launched into the bulk of the narrative straight away. A fault of the writing rather than the performers though. The performances other than the two leads are all good, with one exception. Nick Kroll plays volunteer attorney, Bernie Cohen and at times his performance puzzled me. During his scenes he would often have an certain smugness about him, to me this just didn’t fit the often rather serious scenarios he and the other characters were in.
As well as directing, Nichols once again picks up a writing credit for his work here. It’s unfortunate though that the film at times can become a little boring. This is a great shame as the story that the film is based on is anything but boring. The film chooses to focus on the individuals in this story rather than the overall larger context. There is very little courtroom drama, we don’t see much of the case or defense in the pivotal Loving v. Virginia ruling. Instead we are shown scenes of the Loving family at home dealing with the struggles there rather than in the Supreme Court. This is an interesting writing decision and I did like it. Although it comes back to the lack of time devoted to the couples coming together at the start of the film, for me there wasn’t a strong enough basis for investment. When the narrative finally comes round to court room segments even the thought of this further plot point seemed quite exhausting. Thankfully that decision to focus on the home life combated this well. As the film concludes I was drawn back in, the closing moments feature some further information about the story. This offered some final engagement and a sense of gladness for having taken the time to learn of this significant story.
‘Loving’ is an important film, it’s a crucial chapter in the history of civil rights. Therefore it is a slight disappointment that the writing here can’t quite muster up the engagement that this story deserves. The director certainly gets the most out of his cast, especially Edgerton & Negga who anchor the film with their strong performances. If only five or ten minutes more had of been spent getting to know the couple at the start of the film ‘Loving’ could have been so much more. Nonetheless it’s still a very credible film which tells a vital story.
Rating – 6/10
Question: What is your favourite Jeff Nichols film?
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