The Killing of Two Lovers (2020)
Directed by: Robert Machoian | 85 minutes | drama | Actors: Sepideh Moafi, Clayne Crawford, Arri Graham, Chris Coy, Bruce Graham, Ezra Graham, Jonah Graham, Noah Kershisnik, Avery Pizzuto, Barbara Whinnery
Many films revolve around the period in which two lovers meet and then, slowly or completely, fall for each other. But actually it makes for a much more captivating and exciting film if we are allowed to watch how that relationship gradually disintegrates. Is there anything left to fix with the debris or is the bond irretrievably lost? And what if one (or both) party(ies) deep down doesn’t want the relationship to collapse at all, as is the case in ‘The Killing of Two Lovers’ (2020) by filmmaker Robert Machoian. He immediately pulls us firmly into the story, with an intense opening scene in which David (Clayne Crawford) is pointing a gun at a sleeping couple in the early morning. Would he pull the trigger, as the film’s title suggests? A noise on the landing scares him off and David sneaks out through an open window. No one has seen or heard him. Smart opener from Machoian, because we are immediately intrigued. And he didn’t need any fuss for that.
Like ‘The Killing of Two Lovers’ is completely devoid of fuss. Although you could possibly include the choice for the 4:3 image frame, just like the remarkable sounds that are more emphatically present the more David is dependent on himself. Soon, what’s going on unfolds. David and his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), the woman in the bed in the opening scene, have put their relationship on hold. She continued to live in the parental home with their four children, he was forced to move in with his old father. Completely against his will, by the way. David and Nikki have been together since high school and were still young when their oldest child, daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) arrived. He dreamed of a musical career – and secretly still does – but it never got off the ground. In fact, after all these years, they still live in the hole in rural Utah where they grew up. The exact frustrations underlying the temporary or permanent separation are not expressed literally, but the fact that Nikki was never able to realize her career ambitions because she had to take care of the children undoubtedly played a role.
Distance from each other is not easy when children are involved. The youngest three children barely get along, but teenager Jess resents her parents for ruining their marriage. But the fact is that David himself does not even understand why he is not allowed to live in his own house and only see the children at agreed times. He only agrees to Nikki’s plan, thinking it’s the only way to keep their family of four kids together. Despite his loyalty, he is impulsive, jealous and terrified of losing his family – an explosive combination in a claustrophobic small town where having a private life seems to be a non-existent concept. The fact that Nikki, who has been forced to release each other completely, has yet another man in her life, is extra fuel to the fire for David. From the outside he keeps himself cool as long as possible, but it has to wait until the time bomb that ticks inside him explodes.
‘The Killing of Two Lovers’ focuses almost entirely on David; in long, silent takes, we follow him driving his truck on his way to odd jobs, to pick up his children for a trip or to drive to his father to take care of him. For most of the film few words are exchanged and the film relies purely on protagonist Crawford; his brooding gaze betrays a sea of emotions and frustrations, despair and impotence. He pretends to the outside world that he thinks it’s all fine, but as viewers we know better. Moreover, it is very clever of Machoian that he opened his film with that particular scene in the bedroom, because this always leaves a hidden tension lurking. That threat is enhanced by the 4:3 image format and the stillness, including the remarkable sound effects. But this is a film for which you have to be in the mood, which you have to give the chance and which you have to sit down for. Because if you only look at it with half an eye, you miss the subtle extra layer of tension and you might even find all those long silences tedious.