Loving Review: Fine Performances Let Down By Plodding Script

Jeff Nicols’ drama is restrained – almost to a fault.

Loving starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.
Loving Starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton Image Focus Features

123 minutes (15)

The 1967 Supreme Court decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia to rid the state of the laws preventing interracial marriage was a landmark moment in US Civil Rights movement.

The story of the interracial couple at the heart of that case, Richard and Mildred Loving, is also one that needs to be told.

Whether Loving is the film that effectively captures the magnitude of that decision and the couple’s fight, however, is a different story.

Loving has received widespread acclaim since it’s release and Jeff Nicols’ film is a certainly a triumph in some respects with the writer/director of Mud and Midnight Special delivering plenty in the way of visual flair.

The performances of Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the film’s central couple hit all the right notes in terms of capturing not only the love that existed between the pair but also the sense of fear and uncertainty that dogged much of their lives.

Negga, in particular, is deserving of all the acclaim currently being aimed in her direction and, after a similarly impressive turn in Amazon’s Preacher TV series, her star appears in the ascendancy.

Edgerton, similarly, does well in a movie that fast becomes a character study focused solely on the pair, save for one encounter with a Time Magazine photographer, played by Michael Shannon who proves as reliable as ever.

But for all the pathos generated by the Loving’s two principal leads, Nichols’ film feels a little light in terms of character development and focus on historical setting.

Ruth Negga shines Image Focus Features

We learn very little about the Lovings, with time passing at an irregular pace, while the specific details of what was a landmark ruling are overlooked in favour of a story that centres on the emotions involved.

Nichols has clearly opted for a restrained approach to the telling of the story but in doing so he robs the audience of a lot of the drama, tension and history attached to the ruling.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the final Supreme Court ruling, a verdict played out in a handful of scenes lasting no more than a minute. In a film with a running time in excess of two hours, that seems nonsensical.

As their lawyer, comedian-turned-actor Nick Kroll does a solid job but, like so many characters in the film, he’s sidelined for much of the movie, with his character and motivations rarely explored.

Instead what we have is a story about the power of love to conquer all, set against a backdrop of racial discrimination but even that rarely comes to the fore, save for a few court scenes, a bigoted police chief and a brick.

Wonderfully shot and acted, the real shame is that the story of the Lovings is not explored in as much detail as you would expect – we learn little about how they got together, their children and their plans for the future.

It’s telling also that arguably the film’s most emotive moment comes in the closing title cards telling the audience what became of the Lovings.

Overly long considering the lack of historical detail and drama played out on screen, Loving may focus on an important chapter in history and boast fine performances worthy of the Awards hype but it’s one for the heart rather than the head.

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