Loving review: Cannes delivers its first Oscar contender with Jeff Nichols’ second film of 2016.
This Loving review was written at the Cannes Film Festival, 2016.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga lead the cast of Jeff Nichols‘ second film of 2016, Loving. Following the stellar Midnight Special, which wowed audiences at the Berlin Film Festival back in May, and then released in cinemas at the beginning of last month, this second effort could not be any more different.
Based on true events, the film follows Edgerton and Negga’s Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, who in 1958, were arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute by marrying in a ceremony conducted outside of their home state in Washington D.C. At that time, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as ‘white’ and people classified as ‘colored’, stood firm and the couple were sentenced to prison time. With their one year sentence suspended for twenty-five years, the Lovings were forced to either dissolve the marriage, or move to out of Virigina, not able to return otherwise they would see them their sentence enforced. Choosing the former, and following a number of years raising their three children in the cityscape of D.C., a situation that neither of them welcome, the two seek legal help to appeal their original conviction, and change constitutional law allowing mixed race couples to marry, and ultimately to allow them to return to their family and the rural environment they still desire.
Jeff Nichols’ fifth motion picture is an absorbing, beautiful piece of American cinema; an involving two hours of drama packaged so intricately and ever so delicately. Deciding to shy away from the obvious legal side of proceedings for the narrative, Nichols instead focusses his attention on the human aspect of the story, the two characters at the centre of the film, Richard and Mildred, and the love that they share.
Edgerton delivers a very subdued performance as Richard, a quiet working class and is truly outstanding, but it is Negga who is the sensation here in a breakout role which put her propel well and truly onto the world stage, and at the same time land her at least a couple of awards nods. The actress embodies the role, able to turn an emotion at the blink of an eye or a change in facial expression without uttering a single word. She is magnificent. Nichols’ muse Michael Shannon also pops up in a quick two-scene cameo as Life photographer Grey Villet.
Nichols matures as a writer and director with this, his script wonderfully constructed, honed and delivered through a very different pace of direction, which is truly welcomed. As much as Nichols’ has changed his style and approach with this one, so has his frequent cinematographer Adam Stone. Stone’s visuals delight throughout, the vast fields of rural Virginia more than half a decade ago so glorious; it could not be more different from his last collaboration with the talented filmmaker.
There’s quite some time until this reaches theatres with Focus Features picking a November bow, prime for awards season (and possibly a London Film Festival bow prior) – they must be confident – and so they should be. This is an outstanding piece of work; evidence of a film-maker approaching, if not having reached a prime when there is nobody else that can touch him. It is also the first film that saw us leaving the Cannes auditorium a little choked up and watery eyed, walking into the next screening not being able to get over the film we’d just witnessed for the duration. Yes, it is that good.
Supremely acted and flawlessly directed from a script that is nigh-on perfect. Loving is the one to beat this year.
Loving review by Paul Heath, Cannes Film Festival, May 2016.
Loving will be released later in 2016.