The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is one of the most important in the world of social change and race relations. It was their mixed marriage that became the basis for the 1967 Supreme Court to rule that state laws prohibiting interracial marriages was invalid.
That element is the framework for the feature film from director/writer Jeff Nichols in his film “Loving.” While the court battle is historic, the real truth and passion in the production comes out of the relationship between Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard (Joel Edgerton). There is an honesty in the way the actors bring this couple to life that gives the movie heart.
This is particularly amazing with Edgerton, who plays a man who is so quiet and introverted he almost disappears from the discussion. Edgerton manages to give Richard an inner strength that keeps the charity a powerful part of the story despite his reserved ways.
That’s often played out in very quiet moments where Richard tries to wrap his head around why he and his wife can be so in love but be so mistreated by the world around them. Even when Richard is quietly sitting on the porch, Edgerton plays the role with such inner energy it’s as if the audience is being allowed to see into the soul of this man.
This kind of strength is needed in a story that unfolds in a downward spiral of hate. In the late ‘50s, Richard and Mildred have grown up in a small Virginia town where races live in the same area. All they knew when they go to Washington, D.C. to get married is that they love each other and want to make a life as a couple.
The local law isn’t as understanding. They’re given the option of leaving the state forever and never returning or going to jail. They move to the nation’s capital, but when they return home so that Richard’s mother can be the midwife for their first child police get word and arrest the couple.
They get one more chance and return to Washington, D.C., but the injustice eats at Mildred and she finally reaches out to then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. He connects the Lovings with a small-time lawyer who wants to use their case to fight the law all the way to the Supreme Court.
All through the legal talks and arguments, Edgerton presents Richard as a strong but quiet man. He shows his emotions through simple facial and body movements that work in every scene.
He’s not alone. Negga shows a controlled fire that reflects her life of growing up as a black woman in the South who is intelligent enough to know what is being done must be changed for all. She has the passion to get behind movements of change.
Negga and Edgerton get across the love their characters have for each other through small gestures. Nichols does a wonderful job of telling a monstrous story using the smallest details.
Nichols does a great job not going over the line with the racism. There are plenty of opportunities in the story for the film to take a brutal edge, but Nichols keeps the film focused on the emotional elements. Because of the standout performance by Negga and Edgerton, this approach keeps “Loving” from being just another film based on a true story. It’s more of a true story that focuses on the love and lives of the players behind the history making moment.
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Terri Abney
Director: Jeff Nichols
Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements)