Despite what the title implies, Robert Machoian’s The Killing of Two Lovers does not spoil the ending. Instead, this brilliant depiction of a marriage in crisis keeps the nature of this “killing” in constant, slow-boiling suspense as a husband unravels under the stress of a trial separation.
The Killing of Two Lovers begins a weeklong engagement at Tower Theatre next Friday, May 21 in all its 4:3 ratio glory. If there is a reason for using that aspect ratio, it is probably in the service of creating intimacy with the subjects in a way that pristine high-definition might dilute.
Music and filmby Brett Fieldcamp
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The first time David (Clayne Crawford) appears on screen, he is standing over a bed, shakily aiming a revolver at an unseen sleeping man until he is scared away by bathroom noises and climbs out a window. At this point, Machoian’s methods become clear: the director will force viewers into experiencing David’s ongoing emotional disaster — unblinking, unsparing and with almost no merciful cutaways.
David’s wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) is still living with their four kids in the family home while David crashes with his sick father (Bruce Graham), and everything about his life reflects simmering rage and desperation. He hates living in his childhood home just blocks away from Nikki and the children, and few of David’s visitations go well: His oldest child, teenage daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) is far more clear-eyed about her parents’ situation than her three much-younger brothers, and her own anger comes out in bursts of brutal honesty.
Everything about The Killing of Two Lovers is essential to creating suspense and tension, including the sound and vision that almost exist as characters. Machoian lingers on images longer than most directors can stand, infusing his scenes with the discomfort of spying on someone.
When David walks his kids to the bus stop in the morning — part of David and Nikki’s ground rules for the separation — the bus takes them away slowly with the rumble of an abducting monster. But throughout the film, at the times when David is feeling the most stress, a kind of persistently clanging machinery noise accentuates the cacophony in his mind.
Rather than say the quiet part out loud, Machoian lets the truth come out in David’s actions. Clearly, his anger issues did not begin with the separation, and Nikki has her own problems with honesty that rear their heads with the arrival of a putz named Derek (Chris Coy of Treme).
But if this seems too heavy to be pleasurable, there are appreciated respites from the sorrow, as when David, who once made a go at punk rock, sings a song to Nikki that is obviously about their predicament. Machoian zeroes in on that revelatory moment, forcing the viewer to experience David as he lays bare his emotions.
Crawford and Moafi are so deeply invested in their characters that the two actors, both of whom have resumes in Golden Age television series like The Deuce and Rectify, disappear into their roles. They create what look and feel like living and breathing people in palpable misery, and the resolution of their crisis might not entirely rest with themselves.
The Killing of Two Lovers is Machoian’s first solo feature, having worked mostly in short films and co-directorial efforts, but it feels deeply accomplished. His next film, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, reunites Machoian with Crawford and adds some recognizable names like Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jordana Brewster into his repertory. If Joseph Chambers is anything like Two Lovers, then Machoian could have an extraordinary career ahead of him.
And … this!
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Last Updated May 14, 2021, 8:42 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor