A staple of the Oscar season is cinema revisiting the past, often highlighting painful, obscure chapters. Covering not an entirely dissimilar topic to last year's A United Kingdom, Loving tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple thrown out of Virginia due to their marriage. The ensuing court case had a lasting impact on America's definition of marriage and race relations, far beyond what the couple could have conceived of their act of marriage.
As much as the wider context of Loving is important, the film is a powerful marital drama, one aided by a pair of outstanding performances. Joel Edgerton's Richard initially is the picture of misplaced bravado (their marriage is his idea) and Edgerton fascinatingly plays a man slowly shrinking as the magnitude of events take their toll. It is a strong performance from Edgerton, who has developed into one of the more rewarding actors to watch, with his performance in Loving joining stellar work in Animal Kingdom, The Gift and Warrior. However it is Ruth Negga, playing his wife, who becomes the focus of the film's second half. Oscar nominated for her role, Negga is quietly affecting and is the beating heart of the film. Her performance grounds Loving and it is a victory to see the young actress nominated alongside her peers for this role. Hopefully it will lead to a wider range of roles for the talented star.
As strong as Loving is when it focuses on the married couple at the core, the film is less successful in exploring the climate that it takes place in. It is almost disinterested in the political impact, and both sides of the court case are depicted as being more interested by the ideological battle than by what is best for the parties involved. The film doesn't shy away from the lies and manipulations fed to the couple by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which seems surprising given the good they are working towards. However it feels like there is no wider point here other than organisations manipulate to achieve their goals.
Jeff Nichols directs with the same subtle poetic style he has brought to previous films. From apocalyptic drama (Take Shelter) to boys own adventure (Mud) and sci-fi epic (Midnight Shelter) Nichols retains a focus on the human impact of the extraordinary proceedings his characters are put through. It is in the focus of the couple's marriage and the strain placed upon it that Loving finds its power and makes such a rewarding watch.
Loving, while a relatively minor film compared to its peers, is viscerally stunning with the cinematography capturing the beauty of the American countryside. The era is subtly and evocatively recreated, shying away from clichés whilst establishing firmly the setting of Loving. It prevents the film from descending into the trap of a history lesson that some true story recreations have a habit of falling into.
Loving excels when it focuses on its central couple and the film is worth seeing for Ruth Negga's powerful, subtle performance. The grounded quality of the film continues Nichols trajectory as one of the more interesting directors in Hollywood today.