Forget every "find someone who looks at you" meme you've ever seen. When it comes to gazes that'll make you dream of being adored in the same way, Loving just can't be beaten. Jeff Nichols' latest film is affectionate by name and by nature, and so is its central couple. From the moment that the movie opens with the life-changing words "I'm pregnant", Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) are clearly head over heels. The looks that they direct at each other at every chance possible, make the extent of their feelings obvious. Neither gets weak at the knees; they're not that kind of people. They easily could though, as could those of us sitting in the audience.
Of course, for anyone who has seen Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud or Midnight Special, it won't come as a surprise that Nichols pays such keen attention to their glances. As he's demonstrated in all his films over the past decade, he's a filmmaker who trades in intimate tales that bubble with big emotions. What's more personal, devoted and overflowing with feeling than sending a yearning look someone's way or silently locking eyes? As you watch Negga and Edgerton watch one another, you'll know the answer: nothing.
Indeed, as Nichols' delves into the details of the Lovings' real-life romance, it's soon apparent that his quiet, patient approach really couldn't be more appropriate to such an important story. Falling in love in the segregated state of Virginia in 1958 where interracial marriage was against the law, the pair made history with their fight to be together. That said, despite the threats of imprisonment and legal persecution, Loving isn't a big, fist-pumping courtroom drama, although it probably would've been in lesser hands. Instead, taking its cues from the couple at its centre, it's a contemplative, considered, sensitive and sincere account of a relationship attacked from the outside, but never under threat from within.
That leaves Negga and Edgerton with a considerable task, though it's one they achieve with the same grace and tenderness that marks the movie from start to finish. Nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, Negga imbues Mildred with growing resolve — not about her marriage, which she never doubts, but about doing what she needs to live the modest life she wants with her husband. One of the many pleasures of the film is seeing Mildred grow more and more confident about taking action against inequality, and witnessing Edgerton's hard-working, plain-spoken Richard grow increasingly enamoured with her passion. They never discuss this, and they don't need to. As with everything in Loving, it's all there in their eyes.
Throw in Nichols regular Michael Shannon in a brief but memorable part as a photographer, plus Nick Kroll leaving his usual comedic antics behind in his roll as a civil rights lawyer, and Loving couldn't be more convincingly cast. Add honeyed tones that layer the film's gentle sights with a warm glow, and it couldn't look any better, either. Both help make a subtle yet sweeping effort even more rich and resonant. Ultimately though, it's in conveying the power and significance of Mildred and Richard's love that Nichols' latest movie really shines.