It’s never easy to watch two people end their marriage, especially when children are involved. But when they inevitably start to move on with their lives, it can be even more difficult to see.
In The Killing of Two Lovers we are introduced to David (Clayne Crawford) and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), an estranged couple who are trying to make their marriage work. Though they have four children together, David and Nikki have decided to gain some space, including the option to see other people. However, when Nikki starts up a new relationship with Derek (Chris Coy), David struggles to come to terms with her new beau and contemplates whether or not to embrace his inner darkness.
Written and directed by Robert Machoian (When She Runs), The Killing of Two Lovers is a difficult film to watch. This is not to say that it is somehow lacking in quality. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Basing his entire narrative process on the use of long takes, Machoian turns the camera into a fly on the wall that’s watching love disintegrate right before our eyes. Without fancy camera tricks, the scene plays out as reality unfiltered, with all of its awkwardness, pain and even innocent fun. Brief car trips feel endless. Family time in the park feels lighthearted at first yet never lets us forget that trouble simmers under the surface.
Fueling the film is Crawford, who turns in a simply stunning performance as the broken but loving David. Imperfect but sincere, David is a man on the edge and Crawford plays him as a bubbling (and conflicted) crockpot of hurt. Whereas most relationship films play out as ‘will they/won’t they’, Killing instead feels like a ‘will he/won’t he’ as David moves back and forth between a desire to rebuild and an inner rage to kill. (David’s intensity is even further exemplified through the film’s incredible soundtrack which ticks like a clock being wound to its breaking point.) Even so, Crawford’s authenticity and presence within each scene keeps him likeable. Though David could crack at any moment, we feel his pain and empathize with him.
While the title implies violence, the alternative reading of The Killing of Two Lovers also suggests the death of a relationship. Never shying away from the complexities of the conversations between its characters, Killing lets the audience feel the anxiety that David and Nikki are experiencing as well. With its emphasis on realism, Killing shows the painful impact of divorce and separation on a family. (It’s worth noting that these long takes also require—and showcase—some incredible chemistry between its leads as each scene evolves naturally between them.)
What does hope look like when it feels like there is none? Admittedly, Killing isn’t entirely sure of the answer to this other than asking for time to figure it out. With each misuse of words or implied slight, David and Nikki attempt to navigate their new reality with softness… yet pain and hurt complicate each interaction. Even though David and Nikki have set the rules in place regarding date nights, seeing other people and sharing the kids, the pain of these circumstances sends ripple effects through their family. As the kids attempt to grapple with this new reality, so too must their parents try to present stability during unstable times. While love is still there between them, David and Nikki have no idea what the next phase of their relationship will be and it’s affecting the children as well. (“We’re the adults. We need to figure this stuff out,” David yells to his daughter.)
Building with a slow burn to a surprising climax, The Killing of Two Lovers is solid storytelling from start to finish. Creatively shot and earnestly performed, this is a film that leaves a mark on the viewer’s soul after the credits roll.
But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to witness.
The Killing of Two Lovers is available on VOD on Friday, May 14th, 2021.