Film Maker Jeff Nichols.
Loving is the latest film from American writer/director Jeff Nichols. It tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an inter-racial couple whose marriage in 1950’s Virginia led to the repealing of archaic and racist laws forbidding such a union.
Nichols has repeatedly shown himself to be a masterful film maker. His understated style, portrayal of people as authentic and refusal to delve into melodrama in both dialogue and direction give his films a genuine feel and tension. Dialogue is used sparingly, he trusts his actors to portray the story emotionally, not verbally. He trusts his actors because he knows them, repeatedly using the same cast members in each of his films. Nichols talent as a film maker has seen him crossing genres with ease: Shotgun Stories (2007), a tense drama telling the story of a family feud, Midnight Special (2016) a sci-fi tale in which a gifted child, protected by his father, is pursued by the FBI and a religious cult, and now the period biopic Loving. Add to this the coming of age drama Mud (2012) and the critically acclaimed Take Shelter (2011) and you have a formidable movie portfolio. This man does not make bad films, he makes great ones.
Loving is a beautifully shot film, with characterisation reminiscent of Shotgun Stories. Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving, and his performance is phenomenal. This is a man who struggles to communicate, who deeply loves his wife and children, and desperately wants to be left alone. Ruth Negga is perfect as Mildred, her understated dialogue and awkward posture capturing the character that should, but probably won’t, make her 2017 Oscar win for best supporting actress a formality. Mildred’s courage is never forced, never staged. It just happens. There are no big speeches in this film, no epic words to slap on the poster. There is truth. Edgerton and Negga are so good, that at times it feels as though you are watching some kind of impossible surreal documentary; beautifully shot in colour in 50’s America. Nichols not only avoids the cliches of the modern biopic, he gives us a new take: Just tell the story of the people, ignore everything else, ignore the big picture, the political and legal ramifications, ignore the historic change: Tell the story of Richard and Mildred, of their simple, powerful love for each other. That is the greatest truth, and the one we can all connect to. We can’t identify with airbrushed heroes changing the world, we can identify with real people, flawed, doing their best by each other, while history seems to happen around them.
Jeff Nichols is one of the most important film makers working today. His films have a space in them. They are not crammed full of stuff. They allow reflection, like a loving friend, they don’t demand attention like a spoiled child. To release Midnight Special and Loving over a two or three year period would have been impressive. To release both in one year? I’m tempted to use the word ‘genius’.