Premise: David desperately tries to keep his family of six together during a separation from his wife. They both agree to see other people but David struggles to grapple with his wife’s new relationship.
With a title like The Killing of Two Lovers, you’d be forgiven if you were to go into it expecting a more violent drama. But director, screenwriter, and editor Robert Machoian has more on his mind than surface-level passion. Namely the slow and painful disintegration of a marriage, and everyone that gets sucked into its wake. Machoian’s film uses many impressive tricks and techniques to sell the ideas he’s working towards, but the film could ultimately be polished more in its shadings of some of the secondary characters.
The film works best as a character study of a man named David (Clayne Crawford) as he struggles to accept his new reality with his wife and children. In an evocative opening scene, David stands at the foot of his estranged wife Nikki’s (Sepideh Moafi) bed, pointing a gun at her and her new paramour as they sleep. This scene, along with the gloomy, grating score, gives the rest of The Killing of Two Lovers an undercurrent of impending dread; we’re left waiting for a shoe to drop sooner or later until the end of the film. It’s understandable why Machoian wanted to begin with such a magnetic image, but it puts David’s actions in such a different light throughout the rest of the film. I want to root for him, and I want him to fix his situation, but not when he’s simultaneously on the verge of ruining everything he professes to be working towards. Crawford is an engaging performer and manages to carry the bulk of the film’s emotional weight; we see his exasperation that comes with trying so hard to fix something that is inherently broken, but hasn’t fully sunken in for him quite yet. It’s revealed that David and Nikki got married and pregnant in quick succession after high school, when they subsequently had 3 more children. As some couples do when they reach middle age, the two realize the relationship was mostly one of convenience, and though it’s unclear exactly how fresh the separation is when the film begins, it’s obvious that David is still in denial. A date night that begins with such hope for David devolves from a long night out to a brusque drive around the block, punctuated mostly by meaningless small talk.
The film’s title is a misnomer in another way, as we’re mostly seeing the events through David’s eyes, and Nikki isn’t given as much depth, which speaks to the film’s problem at-large. Though David’s role is deftly written, the same can’t be said of Nikki or their kids. We see the importance that David’s family has to him, but there isn’t a tangible sense of their interior lives. It doesn’t help matters that his oldest daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) is given such basic dialogue that paints her as little more than an angst-ridden teenager. Still, Machoian shows promise as a subtle screenwriter, as most of the plot developments unfold organically, and he gives the audience plenty of time to absorb the import of every decision.
Indeed, The Killing of Two Lovers is a promising feature for Machoian. Though I am admittedly unfamiliar with the rest of his work, this is a confident film that shows his talents behind the camera. Most scenes unfold as long single takes, and though most don’t feature elaborate movements or complex staging, the results are impressive nevertheless. The aspect ratio occasionally changes when things get tense, which helps, along with the extended scenes, to sell the inescapable nature of David and Nikki’s dilemma. Speaking of inescapable, the film takes place in an unnamed rural town – the kind of town with mountains in the distance and where cows can be overheard as David drops Jess off for school – and David and Nikki’s separated residences remain, almost literally, within shouting distance of each other. The same film set in a larger town, or a smaller city, would lose or significantly diminish this effect. It’s these technical decisions by Machoian, along with Crawford’s performance, that makes The Killing of Two Lovers a film worth recommending, and what has me excited to see what comes next.
The Killing of Two Lovers premieres in theaters and on VOD on Friday, May 14.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.