The Killing of Two Lovers (2020). Photo: Neon

The Killing of Two Lovers (2020)

"You think you’ll get your own place?" - Nikki 

Like a coiled snake, the Killing of Two Lovers is a taut drama just waiting to strike at any moment. The opening of the film features David (Clayne Crawford) pointing a gun at his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) and her lover Derek (Chris Coy) as they sleep. Given the film's title, you expect him to kill them both, but he decides against it and runs home to his father's house. The tension never lets up from there - it is a non-stop marathon of emotional turbulence.

A simple love triangle (well-traveled film territory, to be sure) can be cliche if not perfectly executed. But a marriage on the rocks can also be engaging to witness if handled with care, and director Robert Machoian smartly crafts the Killing of Two Lovers. This film knows its characters inside and out - they are both painfully unhappy with how things are. However, finding a solution is just as painful, if not more so.

David and Nikki are separated, and while they have agreed to see other people, David is clearly unhappy with the arrangement. He has been staying with his sick father, who lives just down the road from his family home. Meanwhile, a new boyfriend sleeps in his house with his wife and children. This is a marriage in deep, deep trouble.

The Killing of Two Lovers superbly demonstrates how difficult it can be to heal a fractured marriage. To make matters worse, there are kids involved: three sons and a teenage daughter, Jess. She, in particular, is having a terrible time coping with her parent's separation, and Jess implores David to fight harder for the family.

David tries as hard as he can to keep the kids from blaming the mother for their separation, even though she is dating someone new. The couple repeatedly mentions that "they both decided it was the right thing to do," but it is never clear why they separated. It is noted that David had a fledgling music career that never took off, and Nikki's career is taking her in new directions. David hints that they just got married too soon before they could sort out their lives.

The actors do a remarkable job, especially Crawford as the young father trying to keep his world from crumbling all around him. The Killing of Two Lovers is a heartbreaking film, and there's really no break to the drama. Discordant sound effects accompany David's movements around the town, helping to accentuate the level of anxiety. He is on edge and capable of violence at about every turn, and you never know if he will be able to keep it together.

The cinematography by Oscar Ignacio Jimenez is impressive. The Killing of Two Lovers is filmed in a 4:3 format, giving the movie a slightly claustrophobic tension and a style reminiscent of still photography. Shots are artfully composed, and the compositions linger after objects leave the frame, reminding one of what Paul Schrader refers to as "transcendental style" in film. The effect is mesmerizing and stunning.

The Killing of Two Lovers is one of the best dramas in recent memory. Clayne Crawford gives a remarkable performance as a man struggling to keep his family from slipping away. Although this film is a bleak one, if you are in the mood for dark, brooding drama, this is one worth seeking out. (B)

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