Written and directed by Robert Machoian, The Killing of Two Lovers is unexpected in the best way. The film opens with a scene that elicits a gasp, with its main character on the verge of doing something he might regret. While he doesn’t go through with it, it immediately sets the tone for the remainder of the film. The Killing of Two Lovers details a fractured marriage story, one that is intense, deeply compelling, and suspenseful in an uneasy and surprising way.
David (Clayne Crawford) and his estranged wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) are separated after several years of marriage. David has moved out of the house they shared with their four kids, though there is an attempt there to work through their issues despite the fact that Nikki seems to have already moved on to another relationship with Derek (Chris Coy), one that is deemed okay in the newly agreed upon terms following the pair’s split. David and Nikki’s struggles are all-encompassing, affecting the adults and their children. David and Nikki, who got married right out of high school, are reevaluating why they’re still together, having tried and seemingly failed to keep their marriage going after so long.
They’re different people now and, despite the fact that they still love each other, are no longer on the same page. This fracture is evident throughout the film, with their separation obviously taking its toll on them and their kids, with the story putting the difficulties of a changing marriage and what that means to the family being on full display. The Killing of Two Lovers is unexpectedly chilling, though one could perhaps surmise as much from the title, which itself suggests there will be a literal killing or the death of the film’s primary relationship.
Machoian sinuously builds up the tension and unease throughout — from the film’s opening scene of David standing over his wife and her boyfriend while holding a gun, to the heightened verbal sparring between David and Nikki or the ones that occur between him and daughter Jesse (Avery Pizzuto), the eldest of the four kids and the one who is most unhappy with her parents’ choices. The toll the separation takes is tremendous and the film treats it as such, elevating the simmering tension with encompassing, distinguished shots that bring viewers into David and Nikki’s troubles while maintaining a distance, the viewers merely spectators watching the fizzling out of this marriage from afar, getting only pieces of the whole picture.
The film’s ending is innocuous, however, leaving behind the brazen intensity and visceral conflict for a strangely less dramatic ending. Yet somehow, the final scene is almost as chaotic and off-putting as the rest of the film. It’s unexpected and shocking considering all that came before. The characters’ emotions are front and center, though it’s obvious David’s feelings about a potentially permanent separation from his wife is more of a focal point. He gets to be confused, frustrated, angry, and openly struggling while Nikki isn’t afforded the same amount of time to showcase her tumultuous emotions (save for a few scenes). The film itself is more interested in exploring the complicated feelings that come with a separation rather than what exactly may have led to it to begin with; the implications are there, of course, but The Killing of Two Lovers subverts expectations. And, really, it doesn’t much matter in this instance because the reasons are irrelevant when compared to the effects it has on the characters.
Clayne Crawford delivers an especially poignant performance as David, who works to appease his children while simultaneously trying to maintain the relationship he has with Nikki. Sepideh Moafi is equally a sympathetic character despite not getting as much to work with as Crawford. As Nikki, she’s torn between trying to go her own way and being there for her family in the midst of their split and her emotional turmoil is just as prevalent thanks to Moafi’s moving portrayal. The Killing of Two Lovers is ultimately a striking, deep, and engaging film about the downfall of a marriage. Driven by the emotional drama that is constantly bubbling to the surface, the film handles the unsettling feelings of its characters and tension-building with ease, leaving the audience with a complex, compelling story.
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The Killing of Two Lovers is now playing in theaters and is available on demand. The film is 84 minutes long and is rated R for language.
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