Loving is a respectful, reverential piece of work from cool-as-a-cucumber budding auteur Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Take Shelter, Mud, Shotgun Stories). With a dramatic through line that remains on an even keel and quiet temperament for two hours, this is a somber and sad yet never overly sentimental true life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who dared to challenge the state of Virginia over their right to get married. Sensitively portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, the actors were clearly directed by Nichols to behave in a very pragmatic and reserved fashion; there’s never a moment where one particular scene feels “bigger” than the previous, and this sense of dramatic neutrality helps to build a sense of grace to the entire portrait. Because that’s what this film is – a portrait of two people in a very specific time and place, and it’s beyond revolting to think that these people suffered in the way that they did, and not all that long ago in terms of America’s history.
There’s nothing over the top during Loving, no emotional grandstanding or sociopolitical speechifying, subtle or hammerhead, because Nichols is too good for that. He’s interested in the audience finding these people while observing the story, and very similar to his other 2016 effort Midnight Special, there’s much to be said about what’s not shown on screen in order for the story to progress; Nichols is a “you fill the gaps in” storyteller, which can be annoying for viewers who need everything spelled out for them. Nichols based his film on the documentary The Loving Story, by acclaimed filmmaker Nancy Buirski (By Sidney Lumet). Chad Keith’s evocative production design, Julie Monroe’s extra-patient editing, Adam Stone’s dark-hued cinematography, and the minimalist musical score from David Wingo seal the crisp and clean aesthetic package, resulting in a movie that feels wrapped with care and yet still susceptible to fresh wounds. This is an excellent piece of work that speaks to the sense of humility and respect that select people have for others.