There are few films more delicate, few more exquisite, and few in need of courteous and committed audiences as Jeff Nichols’ Loving. In some ways the film plays as anti-Oscar bait – so much of the work is about being quiet, about listening, about the quiet grace and dignity of the love between two individuals. It’s an astonishingly humanist film, one that drops bombast in favour of a cool, concise storyline.
You can almost feel the tension when watching it, waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting for it to become a pedestrian and predictable courtroom drama. There’s a film there, to be sure, one filled with shouting lawyers and triumphant, swelling strings as the protagonists fight against their nemeses in the community beset on keeping them from being in a relationship. At a time when the term was miscegenation, the crime worth jailing for, the seemingly unshakable bond between a white man and his black wife made for some an affront of all that was natural.
Yet Loving manages without fireworks to powerfully, perfectly make foolish that notion. It’s a film that does total justice to these individuals, using their own quiet comportment (and steely steadfastness) to shape the film’s narrative. As form and content merge, we feel the strength of the bond, buttressed by astonishing performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. It’s a film that exudes a spirit of affection and quiet calm in the face of the maelstrom, flying in the face of the hate thrown their way, finding their own calm in the eye of the storm. It’s breathtaking stuff but a filmmaker at the top of his game, a cast exemplary (including a perfectly drawn cameo by Michael Shannon), all making for what’s clearly one of the best, most moving, most effective films of the year.
This review was originally published as part of our TIFF 2016 coverage.