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The Killing of Two Lovers [Video Review]

Love Fool(s): Machoian Presents Scenes from an Imploding Marriage

Robert Machoian The Killing of Two Lovers ReviewDespite lip service to the contrary, it would seem love and marriage do not, indeed, go together like a horse and carriage. Such is the thrust of The Killing of Two Lovers, a portrait of a marriage in freefall. More an oblique melodrama than the brutal rural noir both its title and opening sequence otherwise indicate, it’s lowkey observations present an otherwise familiar tale poetically administered on the difficulties of communication, intimacy and desire choked out beneath the onslaught of domestic responsibility.

A genuinely empathetic lead turn from Clayne Crawford sometimes negates a necessary juxtaposition of husband-and-wife characterizations to fully feel the weight of the narrative’s emotional underpinnings, but it’s an otherwise exceptionally persuasive portrait of love as a fluctuating organism unto itself and how it’s changes, as observed by Leonard Cohen are akin to “the shoreline and the sea.” As an outsider comments, “feelings, they move in, they move out.”

In small town Utah, David (Crawford) and his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) are experiencing a separation. The high school sweethearts, who have four children together, each seem to have different impressions of what the separation means for their future. While David has moved into his father’s house, Nikki has begun accepting the attention of another man (Chris Coy), much to the chagrin of their teen daughter (Avery Pizzuto). As David develops some unhealthy coping mechanisms to the situation, the couple finds themselves on an unavoidable path towards an increasingly volatile reckoning.

Robert Machoian, who has co-directed several features alongside Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, steps out on his own with The Killing of Two Lovers, and begins with all the intense energy of a cocked pistol. Immediately, the film retreats into a sinister paralysis, all the dread of its J. Lee Thompson ruggedness cooling into an arrhythmic anxiety with all the beauty of Malick’s early dramas from the American hinterlands.

DP Oscar Ignacio Jimenez frames many of these characters as figures in a landscape, preoccupied with their own miseries and yet without a sense of agency to control where the physical and mental realities are driving them. Like We the Animals from the perspectives of the adults (snippets of the children’s dialogues provide some interesting parallels), it’s a self-contained exercise of significant dysfunction brought about by unrealistic expectations. Likewise, the menace provided by sound designer Peter Albrechtsen creates a constant cacophony of discordant noises keeping us on edge.

While Machoian does drive into a crescendo of violence, it isn’t what’s ultimately expected, which allows the film to feel more unexpectedly metaphorical. Crawford is so mournfully persuasive, he’s often too good to be true, and it creates a void as concerns the characterization of Sepideh Moafi’s Nikki, and one wishes the film attempted to reveal her motivations as the film’s sympathies eventually stray far from her countenance. As it stands, The Killing of Two Lovers finds a couple refusing to directly acknowledge the writing on the wall.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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