Loving is far from a bad film, but it’s one that’s deeply misguided. The film tells an important and timely story, but the direction taken by director Jeff Nichols is a deeply meandering one that focuses more on the importance of the film than the characters. Despite some strong performances, Nichols doesn’t quite hit on the emotional level that he himself attained with films like Mud and this year’s Midnight Special.
Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgeton) are an interracial couple living in Virginia. After traveling to Washington to get married, the couple is arrested and brought to court. While the Lovings attempt to keep their family and children safe, an idealistic young lawyer (Nick Kroll) proposes a solution: take the case to the Supreme Court and attempt to amend the Constitution of the United States.
It’s a very important story, but the film can’t get past that. While we’re continuously reminded of the importance of the story, we rarely get to relate to the Lovings as characters. Although Negga and Edgerton add subtlety and emotion to the characters that elevate the material, there’s little emotion to the drama, and the film’s slow pace adds no real tension to the final court battle. Nichols’s cinematography is also surprisingly dull; compared to the creativity seen in Midnight Special, Loving‘s shots are quite static and familiar, with no sequence truly feeling adapted to the language of cinema.
There are bright spots, including a surprisingly subdued and strong performance by Kroll as a lawyer and a final ten minutes that add some complexity that was missing from the rest of the film. What’s left is an informative film that’s relatively well made and offers an accurate depiction of the nature of both bigotry and love. But being informative is the job of a documentary, and for this film to stand the test of time, it should’ve let us relate to these characters not as landmarks, but as human beings. Grade: B-