Review: Love (2016)

Love (2016)

Directed by: Jeff Nichols | 123 minutes | biography, drama, romance | Actors: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Dean Mumford, Terri Abney, Alano Miller, Chris Greene, Benjamin Booker, Justin Robinson, Dennis Williams, Keith Tyree, Sharon Blackwood, Rebecca Turner, Christopher Mann, Mike Shiflett, Winter-Lee Holland, Karen Vicks, Lance Lemon, Marquis Adonis Hazelwood, Marton Csokas

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter loved each other. Their love was so strong that they overcame violent storms. And storms certainly were there in 1950s Virginia, where white Richard and dark Mildred were not allowed to be together because an outdated law in their home state forbade them to do so. It took them nearly a decade, but thanks to the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – an organization that champions the rights and freedoms of American citizens – the Loving vs. Virginia’ in 1967 before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the couple. Since that ruling, the number of interracial marriages in the United States has skyrocketed. The Lovings thus brought about a major change in American law, something that is commemorated on June 12 every year on ‘Loving Day’. Richard and Mildred, however, remained humble; certainly Richard preferred to stay away from the press mosquitoes. The couple was therefore not even present on the day that the Supreme Court gave a definitive answer. The only message Richard wanted to convey, through attorney Bernard Cohen, was: “Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it’s just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

Perhaps it is partly due to the media shyness of the Lovings that their story has not been filmed before. It was when filmmaker Nancy Buirski read an In Memoriam in The New York Times about Mildred, who died in 2008 (Richard died in a car accident in 1975), that she was inspired by the documentary ‘The Loving Story’. ‘ (2011). Colin Firth was also interested in the story, and he approached Buirski with his idea for a feature film about the Lovings. “I was touched by the simplicity of the story, and the way these ordinary people have meant so much to others,” said Firth. Talented writer/director Jeff Nichols, known for ‘Take Shelter’ (2011) and ‘Mud’ (2012), was brought in on the advice of none other than Martin Scorsese to adapt Buirski’s documentary into a screenplay, and to direct the film. . Nichols, who was deeply moved by the story of the Lovings after seeing “The Loving Story,” would only cooperate if he was given the freedom to make the film the way he wanted. “This could have been made into a completely different film, one with a more commercial approach à la ‘The Help’ (2011).” His approach, however, was to stay as close as possible to the real Lovings; people of few words, sober and simple. And that is what ‘Loving’ (2016) has become.

Richard Loving

Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is a white, blond construction worker in Caroline County, who in 1958 falls in love with eighteen-year-old Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a dark neighborhood girl. After Mildred finds out she’s pregnant, Richard decides to marry her. But because their marriage violates Virginia racial laws, they drive to Washington DC to tie the knot. Richard also has big plans to build them a house in the hinterland, a stone’s throw from both their families. But then they are lifted from their beds at night by Sheriff Brooks (Martin Csokas), who arrests them for violating racial law. They end up in jail. Once in court, they will be given a choice: either they will both go to prison for five years, or they will leave the state of Virginia and not return for the next 25 years. Richard and Mildred choose eggs for their money and move to Washington, where they can live in a house belonging to Mildred’s niece. Months pass and when the baby arrives, Mildred wants to return home to have the child born in front of both their families. They return in great secrecy, but after little Sidney is born, they are arrested again. Once back in Washington, two more little Lovings are born, but Mildred in particular cannot settle in the city. She decides to write a letter to President John F. Kennedy. Not long after, Bernard S. Cohen (Nick Kroll), an ACLU attorney, calls her, eager to represent them and take the state of Virginia to court.

‘Loving’ is remarkably sober, intimate and small, especially when you consider the impact the ‘Loving’ case had. This austerity is best expressed in the character Richard Loving: type of rough shell, white pit; no nonsense and averse to appearance. However, he is also stubborn and inaccessible and he mistrusts his surroundings. When lawyer Cohen approaches them and indicates that they don’t have to pay anything for his services, he doesn’t trust the case at all. With a cynical “You get what you pay for”, he tries to brush off Cohen. Somewhere his pride gets in the way. While he may seem far from romantic, his motives are, of course, extremely romantic: all he wants is to be with his wife. His wife whom he loves dearly. Mildred is much more approachable than her husband, more open to the press, and even lets LIFE Magazine photographer Gray Villet (Michael Shannon) into their home, understanding that a little media exposure will only help their business. Ruth Negga, an Irish stage actress with Ethiopian roots, knows how to aptly link Mildreds from home with a soft character to her combativeness and striving for respect. Her Oscar nomination for best actress is certainly deserved. In the screenplay, the deep, intense, and indestructible love between Mildred and Richard could have been deepened a little further, so that it could have become a characterization of their love.

Nichols touches on big themes with small gestures. Racism is present in many ways in the lives of Richard and Mildred, but is not magnified. Where other films, which are more intent on provoking emotions, would undoubtedly have played that out with grand gestures – roaring, foaming rednecks who throw all kinds of misery – ‘Loving’ remains sober and modest. Racism is not a ‘thing’, it just exists. Also finds Richard’s down-to-earth mother (Sharon Blackwood), who as a midwife gives birth to little Sidney without too much fuss, with Mildred’s family in tow, and her son sniffing at the thought that maybe he shouldn’t have married Mildred. Even the bad guy, Sheriff Brooks, isn’t as bad as you think at first glance: he just serves the law. Historical news images that have to indicate the time are kept to a minimum. On the one hand, this down-to-earth approach is refreshing, on the other, the lack of emotional highlights makes the film a bit boring. Nichols doesn’t have to teach his audience how important this story is on a social level; they can figure that out for themselves. ‘Loving’ is a beautifully shot and beautifully acted, modest film adaptation of a true story that took place sixty years ago but is still relevant.

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