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Film Review: The Killing of Two Lovers

19 July 21 words: Sebastian Mann

A married man struggles with the pain of his wife opening up their marriage in writer-director Robert Machoian’s flinty but moving drama…

Director: Robert Machoian
Starring: Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy
Running time: 84 minutes

With a title that immediately evokes a spiteful, romantic tragedy, The Killing of Two Lovers is a quietly tough watch. From its startling opening scene, where an unkempt David (Clayne Crawford) silently aims an old service revolver at a young couple asleep in bed together, to its cold but cathartic conclusion, Machoian’s latest is a brutal story of family life on the edge. 

David and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) are not quite separated. David has moved back in with his dad to resume a life of chores on top of his career of working odd jobs, leaving behind his wife and four children in the family home. They’re going through a rough patch; Nikki, a successful lawyer, has opened up the marriage in an attempt to work out her feelings, taking a new boyfriend, Derek (a loathsomely smug Chris Coy). They never seem any closer to working out their marital differences, even though both seem ostensibly committed to not letting the marriage die. 

Crawford is terrific as the lead. It’s a performance filled with palpable self-loathing, as he tries in vain to enjoy time with his children at the park, all the while failing to defend himself against his bitterly disappointed eldest daughter, Jess (Avery Pizzuto). His frustrations are tragically resonant; he’s doing it for the kids, but what he’s doing appears to only ever amount to remaining in limbo, in stasis. Solutions are never presented and conclusions feel forever out of reach.

It’s not a fun watch, but it’s genuinely thought-provoking and often riveting, in spite of its austere feel

Open marriages and polyamorous relationships have become more widely discussed in recent years. They tend to invoke pretty strong reactions in people – and your perception of Nikki will no doubt be spurred by your own feelings – but Machoian never mines the material for exploitative, 21st century scandal. There is a crucial absence of context for what their relationship was like before, and so Machoian’s script offers a tremorous character study of a man struggling to cope with what he can’t emotionally or rationally comprehend over a more conventional marriage story. 

Set to a stunning backdrop of a cold Utah mountain range, cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jimenez puts an uncomfortable distance between us and the drama, always holding on an image for slightly too long. We often watch David’s rickety truck drive down the long, barren roads with endless dirt on either side without getting a glimpse inside the cab. Of course, we don’t need to. We know exactly where he is. We know where his mind will wander. 

The Killing of Two Lovers cuts to black at 85 minutes, wasting little of its runtime and notably sparse dialogue. The boxy 4:3 aspect ratio keeps everything tightly contained, and Machoian’s direction and careful work as editor is brilliantly understated. In what is perhaps the film’s creative highlight, there is no musical score. At one point, David softly plays guitar, but that’s it. The rest is underpinned by an ominous drone, the great work of sound designer Peter Albrechtsen. It’s not a fun watch, but it’s genuinely thought-provoking and often riveting, in spite of its austere feel. It keeps you subtly on edge, and keeps the rage simmering just beneath the surface. 

Did you know? The Killing of Two Lovers marks Clayne Crawford’s return to acting, following his dismissal from the Lethal Weapon television series in 2018. 

The Killing of Two Lovers is in cinemas now

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