The Killing of Two Lovers

In a small snow-covered Utah town set within a flat grid ringed by distant mountains, David (Clayne Crawford, "A Walk to Remember") has moved in with his dad (Bruce Graham) while working things out with his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi, HBO's 'The Deuce').  But when David arrives at his house to pick up his four kids for school, he discovers his wife in bed with another man in “The Killing of Two Lovers.”

Laura's Review: A-

Writer/director/editor Robert Machoian’s lived in meditation on a strained marriage just may be the filmmaking discovery of the year.  In less than ninety minutes, we traverse one man’s realization that his marriage may be over and his desperate attempts to save it and almost every choice Machoian has made is efficient, cinematic and note perfect.   The entire cast is a natural part of their singular environment, but Crawford is exceptional maintaining an exterior of compassionate understanding while internally drowning in disbelieving, despairing rage.

We know we’re in good hands from the very first scene.  Cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez, working on his first feature film(!), frames David’s face in close-up Academy ratio and holds the shot before Machoian reveals that he is looking down upon a sleeping woman in bed with a man.  Suddenly he pulls a revolver out and points it at her, the movement so sudden it shocks us (I gasped), but noise from an adjoining bathroom stops him.  He leans back against the door, then leaves the house, gets into his red Ford pickup and drives to another home around the corner.  There he has an affectionately teasing conversation with his father before heading back to the Gothic brick house with white gingerbread trim where he will have a seemingly normal conversation with Nikki about their kids.

You wouldn’t know there was anything troubling David as he walks his three boys (Arri, Ezra and Johah Graham) to the school bus and he even maintains his cool getting coffee in a convenience store as a guy hits him up for a pour.  We will learn this is Derek (Chris Coy, HBO's 'The Deuce'), Nikki’s lover, who David will have to acknowledge when his teenaged daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) finally blurts out ‘Mom’s cheating on you.’  But to his daughter, David explains that he will not paint her mother as a villain, that marriage right out of high school has presented challenges.

There are two major emotional scenes, the first taking place on date night when Nikki’s slipped offhand comment reveals that she isn’t as committed to the reconciliation David expects.  In the film’s explosive last act, Derek will try to intervene in their marital spat out on the street, he too presenting two entirely different faces, one of accommodation, another of violent rage.  One of the most striking aspects of the film is the composition of its images and in this final scene, this trio is set with David to the left, Derek to the right, Nikki intervening, running interference between them, visually torn between the two.  Machoian features many scenes of David driving, Jiménez mounting a camera with an unobstructed view into the cab of David’s truck for extended periods of observation.  In one beautiful shot, his kids are lined up beside him, a study in inherited profiles.  In another, David speaks to them from outside the house at night, his boys crowded in a warm glow that excludes him.  The sound design is exaggerated, strained knocking and grinding accentuating David’s inner turmoil.

“The Killing of Two Lovers” is a masterfully executed film and one of the very best of 2020.

Robin's Review: B+

“The Killing of Two Lovers” will be featured in the New Directors/New Films series 2020, Dec 9-20, and enjoy a virtual run from 12/12-17 before premiering in February 2021 from Neon.