Writer-director Robert Machoian’s “The Killing of Two Lovers” examines the disintegration of a marriage in rural Utah as David (Clayne Crawford) struggles to keep the family unit intact by giving his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) the requested time to figure out her feelings. Matters get complicated when she becomes entangled with coworker Derek (Chris Coy) during the trial separation — both agreed to see other people — which agitates David who just wants to reconcile. The no-frills drama uses a boxed ratio to focus on its veritable cast of characters, and a unique soundscape to help drive the tension in this cinematic tinderbox.
THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS
Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy, Avery Pizzuto, Arri Graham, Ezra Graham,
Barbara Whinnery, Noah Kershisnik
Directed by Robert Machoian
An ominous opening reflecting the film’s title sets the tone as David hovers above his sleeping wife Nikki and her new boyfriend Derek while pointing a revolver at the couple. It’s the first of many moments in Machoian’s film that exemplifies an undercurrent of self-restraint.
For a split second, it’s touch and go, but David puts the gun away and like a vampire in the night he exits out the bedroom window leaving no trace of his presence, just before dawn. Soon his young sons and teenage daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) will awaken to find a stranger in the house, the thought tearing away at David who is now forced to live down the road with his aging father (Bruce Graham). Machoian cast his real sons and father, all non-actors, as David’s family using the cinéma verité filmmaking style to envelop the narrative in authenticity.
In a small town, especially one the size of Kanosh, Utah (pop. 300), everybody knows each other’s business, so a separation is big news. When David pays a visit to Mrs. Staples (Barbara Whinnery) about a job clearing brush and junk off her land, he uses the opportunity to ask her marital advice, “Did you and Tom have a good match?” She thinks about and responds, “Not particularly, why?” She knows why David is asking and offers up, “A real marriage takes respect over love” before assuring him that everything will be okay, “You and Nikki will work it out.”
The cinematography by Oscar Ignacio Jiménez beautifully captures the flat landscape punctuated by scenic mountains in the background. Paved roads seem out of place in the rural community overrun with dried grass and brush, abandoned trailer homes, and old Ford pickups rusting away, the overcast skies during the winter season adding to the film’s somber tone.
The simplicity of “Killing” gives the film its strength. David tells corny dad jokes as he walks the kids to the bus stop, later they shot off rockets in the local park. Those scenes are perfect examples of the serene daily life in the small town. However, inside the brick homes scattered in the countryside, a different picture is being painted as turmoil brews on the horizon.
Jess grows more frustrated with her parent’s separation. Avery Pizzuto is superb as the teenage daughter who doesn’t believe her father is fighting hard enough to save the marriage. In one of the film’s strongest scenes, Jess sits in David’s truck arguing with her dad over the separation. David calmly informs her “We’re trying Jess, but there’s no daggum road map, okay?” She responds, “Why can’t you guys just be together like grandma and grandpa?” He promises his daughter that they are trying to work it out, but she shakes her head in disbelief.
“Figure your sh*t out because it’s ruining my life.”
Chris Coy as Nikki’s new lover Derek comes off as the story’s villain, but it’s not cut and paste. At first, the audience isn’t sure whether they should fully hate him. He seems like a nice guy who may have been unaware of Nikki’s situation. Was she leading him on and David simultaneously? Is she to blame for everything? Those questions are also hard to answer. It’s obvious the couple’s problems were shared, and David is just as culpable for their breakup. Machoian offers no clear-cut path to redemption. The story is straightforward, but the emotions of the characters are perpetually enigmatic.
This is David’s story. He is the center of the film and Clayne Crawford is dynamite in the role. From the breakup of a marriage to the breakdown of a man, “Killing” never strays too far from Crawford who delivers an authentic performance of a man losing his marriage, kids, and masculinity.
The tension in the film is driven by two things. First, Machoian’s use of long takes, keeping the lens focused on the events taking place without cutting away gives “Killing” a documentary feel adding realism to the narrative. Second, Peter Albrechtsen’s unique sound design serves as the film’s biggest asset, highlighting scenes with noises that include sounds of doors opening and shutting, creaking metal, the spinning barrel of a gun, and shots being fired. Accompanied by music stabs, the sound design paints an ominous picture turning “Killing” into a tinderbox waiting for a spark to ignite the volatile situation.
“The Killing of Two Lovers” is one of the best films you’ll see this year.
Now showing at the
Now showing at the Angelika Film Center & Cafe (Dallas) and available On-Demand