When thinking about people who inspired revolutionary change, we often imagine passionate activists, rabble rousers, political movers who spend every breathing moment fighting against the system in order to exact the change they believe that their society needs. However, more often than not, real change occurs when fairly regular people, who are non-political citizens just wanting to live a peaceful life as they benefit from the civil liberties that all of us should be afforded, regardless of race, religion, and sexual orientation, organically push back after being denied those rights.
Mildred and Richard Loving were such people. All Richard wanted to do was to build a home for his family to live in, and all Mildred wanted was to raise a family with Richard. Fairly simple and non-threatening ideas, wouldn't you think? However, this was the late 1950s in Virginia, and Richard and Mildred was an interracial couple, which itself was an illegal act at the time. After being put in jail and persecuted for their unlawful marriage, dragged out of their home state and pushed to live in exile, Richard and Mildred fought back to become seminal figures in the fight to abolish anti-interracial marriage laws in the United States. Loving is a tender, level-headed, and, well, loving biopic that covers their decades-long struggle to simply be allowed to love each other in peace.
I can already imagine you rolling your eyes and thinking, "Do we really need another melodrama based on yet another real story from the country's racist past?" Unfortunately we will never run out of a need to hear such stories, since our racist past will always need to keep our racist present in check. What really matters is if the stories are well told and are devoid of condescending and simplistic narrative tricks that only attempt to extract an easy emotional reaction out of us. In that sense, writer/director Jeff Nichols is a true asset, since he's an expert in taking genres and premises we might be tired of, and breathing new life into them with a unique approach that equally favors innovation and deft execution.
His excellent Midnight Special took a trope we're all fairly sick of at this point, the 80s Spielbergian blockbuster throwback, and managed to infuse it with fresh indie sensibilities and a strong emotional core. Just like Midnight Special, Loving strictly belongs in its genre when examined strictly on a surface level. Anyone who's seen at least one similar story will be able to call out almost all of the story beats: The first half focuses on the persecution, while the second half sees our protagonists push back against the racist culture and system, with major setbacks and even threats to their lives along the way, only to deliver a rousing and emotionally satisfying climax.
Nichols doesn't really veer away from that formula, but he downplays every potential artificially tear jerking moment as he steers the focus away from the grand dramatics of Lovings' years-long court case in favor of a simple and therefore powerful depiction of the love between Mildred and Richard as they keep building their family amongst all the turmoil. By simply showing us how much these two care for each other, Nichols ends up making the strongest political case for the necessity of his film's existence. The chemistry between Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, who play the couple with great empathy, provides the film with its moral and emotional anchor. We expect big, grandstanding moments from such a story, and the fact that we don't get them is what ironically makes the experience one of the most profoundly affecting biopics of recent years.
The Blu-ray's 1080p transfer captures the film's warm depiction of the Virginia countryside with great depth and clarity. The earthly colors that permeate the film's cinematography give way to the grays of the concrete as the Lovings are forced out of their state to live in the big city. Overall, this is a terrific video presentation that doesn't suffer from any obvious video noise.
Loving is a dialogue-heavy film, and is as much about the silent moments between the characters as it is about the drama that surrounds them. Don't expect much surround presence from the DTS-HD 5.1 track, but the dialogue is clear and the ambient sounds places us directly in the middle of 1950s Virginia.
Commentary by Jeff Nichols: This is a great commentary that informs us about the production as well as the true story that inspired Nichols to make the film.
Making Loving: A brief EPK that tries to cover the production.
A Loving Ensemble: Another 5-minute featurette, this time superficially focusing on the cast.
Loving vs Virginia: A 4-minute featurette that very briefly delves into the real case.
A Loving Backdrop: Another very brief EPK, this time about the Virginia locations.
Jeff Nichols continues to subvert our expectations with every genre he's trying his hands on, while also delivering its tried-and-true elements in a fresh way. Loving is no exception, as he crafts an affectionate depiction of one of the most important stories in recent American history.