With his latest film, director Jeff Nichols – whose impressive CV of indie hits includes Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special – sidesteps most of the usual Hollywood clichés associated with these sorts of worthy true stories. Unfortunately, he does it a little too well; as accomplished and moving as Loving is, this sober drama is just a little too low key for its own good and the importance of this civil rights story never quite resonates as vividly as it should.
And make no mistake, this was a landmark case that invalidated local state laws in the American South that banned inter-racial marriages. The reluctant participants were Richard and Mildred Loving (played here by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who were legally married in Washington in the late 1950s, but were forced to leave their home state of Virginia after being reported to the authorities and threatened with prison. Mildred, in particular, desperately misses home, and spurred on by the activities of the fledgling civil rights movement, she contacts Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and their case is eventually taken up by American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Bernard S. Cohen (Nick Kroll). However, they still face a long battle to win their fight to live together in their home state as man and wife.
Irish actress Negga received an Oscar nomination for her beautifully modulated performance as Mildred and in any other year she probably would have walked away with the best actress Academy Award. Joel Edgerton is equally impressive as her taciturn but devoted husband, while Marton Csokas is his usual evil self as the racist local sheriff; fans of Nichols’ works will also be pleased to know that his long-time collaborator Michael Shannon has a cameo as a sympathetic photo-journalist.
But as good as the performances are, Loving doesn’t quite deliver the requisite emotional punch. Nichols’ decision to focus almost entirely on the couple, not the legal machinations, gives the story a poignant human face, but you can’t help but feel that some old school Hollywood grandstanding wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
In cinemas: March 16, 2017
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Marton Csokas
Directed by: Jeff Nichols