Some films though they might tell a tale from the past really fit into the present. Such is the case with Loving. Our neighbours to the south are having a tough go of it lately and part of that is race relations. The occurrences of racism have escalated. It seems like with all the white police officers shooting black men and ensuing protests happening that the United States is teetering on the edge of an outbreak. An example of the more things change the more they stay the same.
Loving reinforces the fact that director/screenwriter Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) is a true storyteller. In this battle for civil liberties he takes a low key approach. The shots are long and static. The dialogue is kept to a minimum. Lots of the story is told through the eyes and body language of the actors. An interesting tact as the usual Hollywood film would fill Loving with plenty of big courtroom speeches, hard to watch scenes and a soaring score. All heavy handed methods would have our eyes welling with tears and leading the viewer around by the nose (or heart). Rather this is quiet and gentle. At times I thought too much so.
In 1950s Virginia seeing a white man with a black woman was not a common occurrence. They especially did not live together then get married as it was against the law. The man of few words, Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton – Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) was in love with Mildred (Ruth Negga – from television’s Preacher). They pretty much live together in her parents’ house. When Mildred tells Richard she is pregnant she is a little hesitant, but he is happy. They decide to get married. Since this is not possible in Virginia they drive to Washington, D.C. to make it legal.
Once back in their small rural town in Virginia things do not go well. The local sheriff (Marton Csokas – The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) arrives in the middle of the night and arrests the pair of them. Their lawyer advises them to plead guilty and as such their sentence will be suspended. The only thing is that they cannot return to Virginia (as man and wife) for 25 years.
They try to make a go of it in Washington but the city is not where Mildred wants to raise their three kids. She writes a letter to Bobby Kennedy about hers and Richard’s case. Kennedy refers their case to the ACLU and fairly inexperienced lawyer, Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll – Date Night, Sausage Party). So begins their lengthy legal battle which goes right up to the Supreme Court as it looks to change the American Constitution.
Serving the story well Nichols decides to focus on the couple and their life and love rather than the legal battle they are fighting. The legal fight is always there, but in the background. Their love is the centerpiece. Makes the story that much more personal.
Both leads give very honest and muted performances. The emotions they are feeling are written all over their faces and in their eyes rather than being shouted from rooftops. Together they lend heightened realism to the Loving’s story. Never making Richard and Mildred feel like characters in a film. Rather two humans doing the best they can against the ugly enemy that is racism. They are a couple who love one another and just want to be married. Doesn’t sound too radical, does it?
The change in the law concerning interracial marriages is not even 50 years old. Mind blowing when you think about it. Loving is a rather muted, but still powerful reminder of how the right to marry was not a given for everyone. It helps us remember that it was a struggle for some.