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New Release Review [Cinema/Curzon Home Cinema] - THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS

the killing of two lovers review
A man considers violence as his marriage dissolves.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robert Machoian

Starring: Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy, Avery Pizzuto

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Writer/director Robert Machoian opens his small town separation drama The Killing of Two Lovers with what initially feels like a flash forward to the outcome suggested by its arresting title. A man stands over a sleeping couple, aiming a pistol at their heads. Interrupted by a flushing toilet in a nearby room, he retreats out the window and runs all the way to his own nearby home.

The would-be assassin is David (Clayne Crawford), and his potential victims are his estranged wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) and her new lover Derek (Chris Coy). Struggling with their marriage, David and Nikki have agreed to a trial separation, with Nikki remaining in their home with their teenage daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto) and their three young boys, while Derek has moved back in with his sickly father.

the killing of two lovers review

Contrary to the dramatic pose we initially find him in, Derek is doing his best to be mature about the situation. He and Nikki have agreed that they will date other people, a situation only Nikki has managed to avail of. When Jess throws a tantrum about David's perceived inability to make an effort to win back her mother, he gives her a lecture about how grownups should behave. It's hypocritical of course, because we've just witnessed him stalking Derek in his 4x4 earlier that same morning. Soon after he'll be using a boxer's dummy as target practice, imagining he's aiming for the head of Derek, or maybe even Nikki.


If you take out these key revealing scenes, which amount to a fraction of the narrative, David comes across as a thoroughly nice guy who's genuinely making an effort to handle this difficult situation in a mature manner. He clearly loves his kids, and his affection is returned by his adoring boys. Even Jess breaks her tough front at one point to give her old man a reluctant embrace. The people of his small town all know him by name, and if he does go through with his planned killings they'll no doubt express their shock on the six o'clock news – "He always seemed like such a nice man."

the killing of two lovers review

What's interesting about David - and what sets him apart from the protagonists of more conventional movies about men turning to violence due to an inability to deal with problems rationally - is that we never feel like his murderous impulses are natural. Rather it seems David is forcing himself to turn to violence, as though he feels it's an obligation. Machoian would appear to be commenting on how America promotes violence as the primary means of conflict resolution, from its war-mongering governments right down to the common man. By committing murder, Derek will become a stereotype, born long ago under the hot Utah sun. This town's not big enough for two men to compete for his wife.


Machoian uses his location to great effect. An opening unbroken tracking shot lays out just how close Derek and Nikki's separate homes are, and whenever Derek has to take a drive the camera refuses to cut, emphasising just how small a world he inhabits. European viewers will likely laugh at how Derek insists on driving everywhere, even if his destination is only two minutes away, but this is another American stereotype he's unwittingly found himself embodying. I was reminded of how Frank Sinatra spends The Man with the Golden Arm walking back and forth across that Chicago street.

the killing of two lovers review

Most of the movie plays out in long takes, the protagonists regularly framed at the bottom of the screen, dwarfed by an indifferent landscape. As they argue and carry out their petty human dramas, the Utah mountains refuse to stir, like a house cat that's heard it all before. But it's that indifference of the natural world that makes this story so tragic and so human. Derek and Nikki are merely squabbling ants whose personal troubles don’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things, but if Derek pulls the trigger they'll suddenly become relevant, a historical footnote, the most famous people to ever live and die in their small town. The tragedy is that the modest Derek has no such interest in such infamy, but his culture has convinced him that it's the only way for him to react. Even the language used by Jess, who urges her father to "fight", is clouded in violent symbolism. It's telling that the only time we get close-ups is the one scene where Derek and Nikki enjoy a brief reminder of how things once were, as they sit in his truck while he sings a song he wrote to express his feelings.

I can't say I've ever watched the Lethal Weapon TV series, in which Crawford plays the Mel Gibson role, so for me he proved something of an exciting discovery here. His performance keeps you glued as David wrestles his demons, an affable Jekyll trying to keep his Hyde under control. But this isn't a case of Hyde inevitably taking over, rather of Jekyll feeling obliged to step aside and reluctantly let a violent alter-ego take charge. The Hyde of this tale wasn't created by knocking back a potion, but by America's refusal to evolve from its Wild West morality.

The Killing of Two Lovers is in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from June 4th.



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