Gregg Kilday, Hollywood Reporter, May 16, 2016
Loving, writer/director Jeff Nichols’ new film about Richard and Mildred Loving–the interracial couple whose 1958 marriage violated Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, which were eventually overturned by the Supreme Court’s landmark Loving vs. Virginia ruling in 1967–held its first press screening Monday morning in Cannes. And it immediately made the case why the film has to be considered one of this year’s first major awards contenders.
Given the material, Nichols could have delivered a standard-issue courtroom drama, culminating with soaring oratory before the nation’s highest court. But he chose to take a different route–the American Civil Liberties Union, agreeing to take on the case, doesn’t enter the picture until more than half-way through the two-hour-three-minute movie. Instead, the film is centered around the Lovings themselves: Richard, played by Australian actor Joel Edgerton, and Mildred, played by the Ethiopia-born Ruth Negga.
In terms of awards potential, the biggest obstacle both Edgerton and Negga may face is that Nichols gives neither character the sort of big, third-act speech that often clinch awards. When Edgerton’s Richard is asked by one of the lawyers what message he wants to convey to the court, he says simply, “Tell them I love my wife.”
As far as their chances with the Motion Picture Academy are concerned, Nichols, Edgerton and Negga are all relatively new players, who are likely to find themselves competing against more established names as the season develops. But, bolstering the movie’s case as a best picture hopeful, the film is being released by Focus Features–it opens stateside Nov. 4. The distributor is sure to play up the film’s topicality. The Loving vs. Virginia decision, in which then Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival,” was cited in the subsequent 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision establishing the right to same sex marriage. And, down the road, a White House screening of Loving would seem inevitable. At a press conference that followed the screening, Negga testified, “This is the most important film I’ve ever made and it is one of the most important films in history. I’m overwhelmed.”