The Killing of Two Lovers would be the blues
THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS (2021)
I have always found art-house and small indie films to be a particularly interesting breed. They cater more to the artist than to an audience. This gives the filmmaker free rein to explore a story that is personal and deep. This is the case with The Killing of Two Lovers. Viewers might see the trailer and think this a working man’s Marriage Story. And they would be right. While Netflix’s Marriage Story followed a crippling marriage among well-to-do urbanites, this tale walks the same path with a perspective shared by the majority of Americans. If Marriage Story was a chart-topping pop song, Two Lovers would be the blues. This bleak working class picture grabbed me by this premise alone.
The direction here is what I expect to see from a hungry indie director. Writer/Director Robert Machoian works well within his budget and limitations; he makes his choices fit the narrative in a compelling way. The stark scenes are framed with veritable execution. He doesn’t cut away, creating shots of excruciating voyeurism. This is a testament to working with what is available, and making moments happen. He has a bright future, even if his material is dark and grounded.
In a small Utah town, a crumbling marriage fumbles towards inevitable dissolvement. David (Clayne Crawford) is separated from his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi). The film opens in a sequence that is as unsettling as it is magnetic. David hovers over a bed occupied with his wife and her new lover. A gun drawn in his hand. Will he pull the trigger? What is stopping him? The tension introduced here sets up the rest of the film like a time bomb. He doesn’t shoot anyone in this opening. Instead he flees through the window and runs back to his current home -- cohabitating with his father.
David and his wife have established an understanding we soon come to realize. They allow themselves to see other people. They give each other space and see if there is still a spark left between them. David takes turns with his wife watching their kids. The strain of their arranged separation takes its toll on all parties, to include their three small boys and especially their teenage daughter. There is a consistent pull for attention and affirmation between David, Nikki, their kids and her lover Derek (Chris Coy). The plot here is not for moving things along. The story, like the marriage that is front and center, is stalled. I believe that’s the point.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The dialogue is strong, punctuated with heavy performances. This is a film that isn’t built upon a series of traditional acts or scenes. Rather, it is packed with moments of strained exchanges between parents and their children, between adults, between lovers. The words flow candidly over several one-shot scenes. This is a lot to ask for an actor to pull off. Not to mention the audience, who are left reeling in its strong authenticity.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
The only scene that really lends itself to the world of make-up is a scene near the end of a film. A character gets beaten to a pulp by another. I’ve seen boxing films, war films and of course horror films. All of which lend their own design to human suffering. The sequence I mention here stands as a champion for make-up within indie cinema. The Killing of Two Lovers is very dialogue heavy, more talk, less action. After the violence on screen ends here, the character drives off, bloody and mangled. This particular scene carries zero dialogue. It punches (no pun intended) at a weight class commensurate with the rest of the film.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
There isn’t a true score here. But maybe there shouldn’t be? A film like this can have swelling heartstring-pulling music, but it would seem flashy or even ostentatious. There is a scene with a character playing guitar and singing which was rather nice. I wish there was more of that. That fits the setting and aesthetic. The actual score is an amalgam of sound effects that sound borrowed from a horror film temp composer. These tones are effective in cranking the tension. Like, really effective. That is the only issue I take here. This film is practically all tension. The brief reprieve with the guitar scene is so short-lived. A more balanced score would’ve been in the film’s favor.
The Killing of Two Lovers isn’t terribly long, but packs a wallop on par with any two-hour Oscar bait. It’s ending is both frustrating and satisfying. It is rewarding because it is ostensibly a happy conclusion. It is frustrating because the tension never totally douses. The Killing of Two Lovers is full of cramped scenes that remind the viewer this is not an ideal choice for a first date. Subtle and lengthy sequences of frank dialogue compliment the quick lurid scenes of anger and blood. It is worth a watch, but will never be considered a comfort movie.
NEON will release THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS in theaters and on demand May 14th, 2021