THE STORY – A man desperately tries to keep his family of six together during a separation from his wife. They both agree to see other people, but he struggles to come to terms with her new relationship.
THE CAST – Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy, Avery Pizzuto, Arri Graham & Ezra Graham
THE TEAM – Robert Machoian (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 84 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
”The Killing Of Two Lovers” is a tense & deeply moving independent drama of a fractured marriage trying to heal itself. Robert Machoian has announced himself to the world as an exciting new artist to pay attention to. Through his command over the storytelling, he’s able to take repetitive melodramatic tropes and subvert them into something more chilling and empathetic, leaving us in a constant state of tension as to how this deceptively simple story will end. It’s a complex drama where both perspectives of husband and wife are given equal weight, and many distinct elements come together to create something worth seeking out.
David (Clayne Crawford) and his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) have been together since they were in high school and now have their own home, three boys, and an older daughter named Jess (Avery Pizzuto). However, the struggles of marriage have made things difficult for David and Nikki. They’ve both agreed to a temporary separation (they’re not divorced yet) with the ability to see other people. At the same time, they try to work things out for their kids, who all still adore David and don’t want to see their parents permanently split up. David walks the kids to school every day and is allowed to visit and spend time with them at specific times, while Nikki has been seeing someone else in their own home (Chris Coy). It may feel like everything is under control and handled in an adult-like fashion, but David’s anguish is pushing him to some dark places. The first shot of “The Killing Of Two Lovers” opens up with David standing over Nikki and her new lover while they’re asleep in bed with a gun pointed at them. Will David pull the trigger? Is his marriage beyond saving?
Premiering at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, “The Killing Of Two Lovers” takes place in the mountains of Utah, but despite the beautifully harsh, snowy landscapes that surround every exterior shot, this is a story that is built on its characters. David is a character who we’re always expecting to see some sort of fatal flaw come through. Surely, there must be a reason why he and his wife are having issues with their marriage? If not him, then the problem must lie with his wife, right? Nope. Machoian decides to take the more relatably human route with his character’s motivations, flaws, insecurities and wisely chooses to make neither parent the villain in this challenging situation. Such a nuanced decision is rare in today’s cinema, where audiences want heightened versions of reality instead of a cold hard look at reality. And the truth is, people fall in love young, they go through problems, and they grow apart. Simple as that. No extra fluff is needed. It allows for some terrific acting from the entire ensemble as Machoian’s camera observes them from a distance in constant impeccably composed and framed wide shots, allowing for many of the scenes to play out as unbroken takes, like a play.
Clayne Crawford gives a delicate performance that is seething with anger beneath his gentle demeanor. His soul is tender and in pain, over the circumstances he and his family are going through. But his resolve in hoping to see things through to the end is endlessly endearing and breaks our heart with every wrong turn the circumstances of his marriage takes. He doesn’t even want to make his wife out to be the villain to his kids, although she is seeing someone new. In a town where everyone knows everybody, it’s a testament to Machoian’s sparse storytelling that we’re able to get as close to David just as everyone else in town knows him. There is a fascinating exploration in both Machioan’s writing and Crawford’s performance at what it means to be a father, a husband, and a man. While such topics are not necessarily new, they rarely feel this fleshed out and understandable.
Machoian knows how to tell a compelling drama by utilizing all of the tools at his disposal. The film is shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which restricts the frame, but it also allows for there to be some unexpected moments of deep introspection into the minds of these characters. As mentioned earlier, many shots are captured in extreme wides so that when the camera cuts into a close-up, they have much more power than they normally would because they’re used so sparingly. The unnerving sound design and deliberate editing will blow you away as grinding metallic sounds, car doors, and other real-world sound effects are used to create the film’s unrelenting soundscape, adding to the sense of unease as tensions boil to a breaking point. All of these elements add up to make “The Killing Of Two Lovers” much more than your typical independent drama. It’s the kind of discovery that makes you excited to see what everyone involved will do next.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A tense and complex relationship drama that is deeply empathetic in its characters’ motivations and actions. Clayne Crawford delivers a gentle performance that is seething with anguish and rage.
THE OSCARS – None