Relationships can bring out our more extreme tendencies, for better or for worse. They can be the source of our highest highs, but equally our lowest lows. There is no greater joy than having someone who feels like your person. But if and when things do cease, the sense of despair can be incomparable. It's a complexity at the heart of the human condition. In film, that universal feeling of love has been explored time and time again. It can work in both highbrow and lowbrow exercises. And in 'The Killing of Two Lovers', it probes a marriage's crippling dissolution with a deft touch.
We meet David (Clayne Crawford, TV's 'Lethal Weapon') and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi, TV's 'The Deuce') as their separation deepens. Nikki and the four kids are living in the family home, while David has moved in with his dad down the street. They both agree they can see other people, but as a new relationship begins to blossom for Nikki, David is holding out hope for reconciliation. All he wants is to keep his family together, but he can sense things are starting to fracture. As his helplessness spirals, David starts to consider more violent means to regain his family life.
Unfolding with great care and fragility, 'The Killing of Two Lovers' strives in its depiction of a marriage in turmoil. There's an effortless authenticity to the proceedings, with characters and their conversations feeling palpably human. Director Robert Machoian is never interested in melodrama, instead probing poignantly how this kind of situation would realistically impact one's behaviour. When David gets time with his kids, he immediately shifts to a different person; he's the happy-go-lucky dad with presents on hand, ready to show them the best time they can. Moreover, when David and Nikki argue, it never feels too big or contrived. In that regard, Machoian plays things as cold and quiet as the wintry mountains in the background.
The film perfectly encapsulates the inherent awkwardness, growing distrust, and simmering resentment we've all seen in a flailing relationship. At one point, when a character seems destined to fly into a fury, they instead cry their eyes out. It's little moments like these that makes the film all the more compelling. Many would cry in such an overwhelming predicament - it's a human tendency, and the film's intelligent dissection of how we emotionally process a growing separation is absolutely absorbing.
Machoian also imbues this approach when it comes to building tension. 'The Killing of Two Lovers' recognises that dwindling love makes any conversation a scrutinised one, as each word said and every inflection given becomes victim to analysis. The film leans into this at every turn to create a level of discomfort more akin to horror cinema. The film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, making things immediately claustrophobic. Additionally, there isn't an intense score to heighten what's said. There are many long unbroken takes of characters conversing, with the potential at any moment for things to explode. The film sharply exudes the weight of these moments, keeping us in overpowering suspense to near breaking point.
This level of minimalism puts a lot of emphasis on the film's performances. The filmmaking leaves no place for its characters to run or hide. And thankfully, the same sobering realism that pervades the filmmaking is equally present in the work of the ensemble cast. Clayne Crawford delivers a heartbreaking performance as David, one filled with dejection and frailty. We see the narrative unfold from his viewpoint, watching his barely composed demeanour rapidly alter to paranoia and desperation. Crawford orchestrates so much dread in something as simple as a look in his eyes or a glance of resignation. It's an absolutely riveting performance. The same can also be said for the actors portraying the family's children, as they too put in genuinely heartfelt performances.
'The Killing of Two Lovers' recognises that dwindling love makes any conversation a scrutinised one, as each word said and every inflection given is now victim to analysis. The film leans into this at every turn to create a level of discomfort more akin to horror cinema.
By and large, 'The Killing of Two Lovers' is able to elucidate a very earnest look at an all too common problem. And more often than not, it understands the best way to do this is to not shy away from the moments of silence. However, the only significant inadequacy of the film is when it utilises sound design to showcase David's anxieties. At times, sound will be drowned out or ramped up in the heat of David's rage and or disillusionment. You can see they're trying to enhance the palpable anger in Crawford's performance, but it becomes too much. The film flourishes in its naturalistic state when that anger is often in a quiet space, and we're right there with David. When the film goes out of its way to try and increase the intensity, it dampens an already intense sequence. Does it take you out of the film? No, far from it, but it is noticeable.
Nonetheless, 'The Killing of Two Lovers' is a richly told and deeply vulnerable film. It's a transfixing tale of love's ability to consume you, the dark things it can make you say and the even darker things it can make you consider. Machoian delivers a film wary that issues like these have no easy answers. And for love to transcend, many should think to adopt a mentality of come hell or high water. It's a film that has stuck with me long after my initial viewing, and one I hope others seek out.