The Killing of Two Lovers, 2020.
Written and Directed by Robert Machoian.
Starring Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy, Avery Pizzuto, Arri Graham, Ezra Graham, Jonah Graham, Bruce Graham, and Nicole Hawkins.
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.
In what is sure to be one of the more distressing openings of the year, The Killing of Two Lovers shows David (Clayne Crawford) standing over what we can only assume is his sleeping partner (Nikki) played by Sepideh Moafi) pointing a loaded gun at her. Naturally, a flood of questions simultaneously wash over the mind, but most of all, we want this woman to survive and for this lunatic to stand down and leave. Fortunately, some flushes from the bathroom interrupt things, and David, who is clearly conflicted about going through with the murder, is already having second thoughts. Thankfully, the next shot (which is the first of one many wide-angle tracking scenes from cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez) depicts from a distance David climbing out the window and running down the middle of the street and the block until he reaches his father’s home, which he has apparently moved back into following these apparent relationship issues.
With that in mind, it’s also a bold move to tell this story from the perspective of David, who already strikes us as repugnant. It’s brought to our attention that he’s lashing out over Nikki having a new partner, which prompts him to start stalking the guy (played by Chris Coy). In a matter of minutes, everything about David sends off Michael Douglas Falling Down vibes, which is certainly an uncomfortable and reasonably questionable protagonist choice for the year 2021 (the film also played Sundance in 2020 and was released in Brazil later that year). In between all of that, he does have a conversation with his ailing dad, which seems to ground him; he says he will get him a candy bar while he’s at the grocery store so long as he cooks dinner in the evening. Of course, David forgets to do so, given that his mind is obviously elsewhere.
All of this happens so fast, David ends right back by the family home to take the children to school and have a conversation with Nikki, who again, he was just who knows how close away from killing in cold blood. Like most outdoor dialogue exchanges, this is filmed from afar, so there’s not much to go off of in terms of facial expressions, but it’s easy to gather that David is everything from hurting inside to needing anger management lessons; his mental state is difficult to penetrate considering he’s capable of regaining his composure and having a civil conversation with someone he appears to want dead if he can’t be with.
One evident thing is that he does love his four children (three of which are young boys and played by real-life siblings bringing forth organic camaraderie). His eldest teenage daughter Jesse (Avery Pizzuto) also harbors strong affection for David and acts out towards her mother, disapproving of her cheating (there’s a terrific scene where she tells the guy off and labels him a creep). When they are alone, Jesse breaks the news to David that mom is cheating, as if he doesn’t know. He says they agreed to see other people while working through a rough patch and assessing whether they are a good fit for each other (they married and had children right out of high school), but his actions express something else entirely. Soon, she’s yelling at him to “fight back” for the sake of their family.
The Killing of Two Lovers is about a man trying to contain his anger (all while an unsettlingly distorted score from Peter Albrechtsen reflects David’s mind) because God only knows what kind of depressing tragedy would be inflicted if he does start fighting back. He may be the reckless and dangerous fun parental figure (his idea of spending time with them at the park is by shooting off fireworks, resulting in a suspenseful string of events where it feels like something bad could happen at any second), but he does love his children. Like his father, they are grounding him and keeping the violence from surfacing. However, in a brilliant move that turns everything around, David might not even be the most hotheaded or temperamental person in this dynamic. There is such specificity to the story debut writer/director Robert Machoian tells that there’s no mistaking its authenticity. The performances from all involved are operating on that same frequency.
Combined with the distant photography (alongside beautiful empty rural spaces, farmhouses, and mountain backdrops) that intentionally makes it tricky to pinpoint exactly what these characters are thinking captured in the Academy ratio, it makes for a disarming film headed one direction that realistically concludes another way. Still, some of the characterization within The Killing of Two Lovers is a bit vague (Nikki especially comes across as more than an object of affection rather than a fully fleshed-out character), and the abrupt ending leaves more to be desired, but whether it’s good or bad for everyone involved makes for a thoughtful debate. The Killing of Two Lovers is also the birth of a director to watch in Robert Machoian.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com