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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: The Killing of Two Lovers (2021)

Certain film titles evoke a particular response and expectation from the viewer. The Killing of Two Lovers is a title that entices with what it potentially sets up both literally and metaphorically, which in turn allows it to be one of the most uniquely executed and profound pictures of the year so far, subverting genre expectations through its use of atmosphere alone. It follows David (Clayne Crawford) as he fights to keep his family together while he and his wife are going through a separation. But the prospect of a new romantic relationship for his wife is something he struggles to accept. That synopsis (along with the title) is a story of potentially two halves: one thriller, one family drama. What makes this film such an interesting exercise though, is that it often opts to be more of a family relationship drama than the thriller that the title suggests, on the surface at least. But it still manages to play with our evolving expectations while watching The Killing of Two Lovers to inject the same sense of urgency, doubt, fear, anxiety and suspense that a thriller creates.

Director , writer, producer and editor Robert Machoian understands the tropes and stylings of thrillers and domestic dramas extremely well. It’s all so evident in how he lays down the groundwork and effectively follows through with his dialogue, plot beats and overall execution of it all through visual and aural cues. The opening moments suggest the events of a thriller, but soon after that, he manages to reroute us, focusing on what is more important for these characters as opposed to creating the easier response of conflict and effectively going along with the title of the film. These decisions make The Killing of Two Lovers unlike anything you will see this year. And although there have been relationship dramas that have skewed our thoughts before on what they typically have to be, Machoian adds an additional layer of what a true thriller can really be in the context of our own lives and struggles.

David and his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) are making attempts at rediscovering their love for each other. They are still going on dates and appear to be on good terms still, but are just trying new things to figure it all out. If they’re still the right fit. Their relationship with their kids is still great, with the oldest, a teenager, understandably not handling this separation well at all. The family dynamic seems to be a lot healthier than what we expect from these kinds of dramas. But Machoian is smart in creating tension and unease within this situation by focusing solely on David’s insecurities and essentially, his fear of the situation. He is trying everything he can, but he cannot seem to stop Nikki from seeing other people and it's through that romantic fling that David finds himself doubting the survival of their relationship, prompting him to come apart at the seams, desperately trying to rescue their relationship and save the sanctity of their family.

Machoian makes use of sound, music and specific shot choices in getting these thoughts and feelings across, effectively giving us a POV of David’s internal monologues. The tense opening moments are followed by the only unstable and shaky camera work of the entire film, giving us a rough idea of his feelings and mind running away with itself as he jogs through the streets. The rest of the film makes use of long shots as we see most of his conversations with other people occurring from a distance. It’s in his moments of true vulnerability through needing to take control of the situation is where we finally go in for tight close-ups. One scene, in particular, has him and his wife driving out on a date, a weekly occurrence in trying to rediscover the passion that once existed in their relationship. It’s a wonderfully charged scene as the dynamic shifts throughout, with Nikki being the only other character along with David to receive close-ups in the entire film. It’s beautifully written and performed, giving us a truly intimate idea of what is at stake for both of them and gives further insight as to where they are right now in their respective lives. Simple exercises like this showcase Machoian as a very real talent in dissecting characters with love and intent. He wants us to root primarily for David, but he also wants us to understand Nikki's side, effectively allowing us to root for both of them and most importantly, the family as a whole.

Sound design and music combine to create an additional level of tension and unease that basically shifts The Killing of Two Lovers from being a standard domestic drama into being a slow-burning thriller. The importance of sound and music is absolutely essential in creating a specific mood for a film. Here, it is utilized to its maximum effect as diegetic sound is stripped, sampled and blended to create a densely atmospheric score that feels angular and unsettling. It broods along with David as he strings his thoughts together, motivating his rational and irrational actions. Strings are pulled and plucked along with sampled sounds of his surroundings. This intense use of music gives us deeper moments of intimacy in regards to David’s emotionally brittle state, tapping into his rising anxiety that is relatable in how we interact and hear the world around us. Films like Sound of Metal make use of sound in such a smart manner in that it drives the narrative. The Killing of Two Lovers works similarly with this. As I grow anxious and begin to catastrophize every single situation in my life, the sounds of the world around me begin to crumble together to form a specific soundtrack in my head. The Killing of Two Lovers managed to create this specific soundtrack I hear in my head all the time, making me resonate even more with David’s sadness, anger and fear. From the angular, uncomfortable sampling of a car door slamming in the unnerving opening sequence's music to a constant ringing in our ears as David goes on a date with Nikki. It’s an extraordinary marriage of the two crafts that gives the film an added layer of complexity that is hard to come by in any cinematic experience.

Clayne Crawford is rightfully the centerpiece of the storm brewing in The Killing of Two Lovers. He never plays it in an obvious manner as David, a character that could so easily, and very nearly, lash out at those around him. Instead, he rages beneath the surface of someone trying to keep it together for his family. The remarkable work of the sound and music in amplifying his impending breakdown is not possible without his tense, claustrophobic performance as he is on the cusp of completely snapping.

The Killing of Two Lovers is a domestic family drama on the surface, but simmering underneath, is a taut thriller that picks and pulls at our own anxieties and insecurities as much as it does towards David's. At least for me, that is. Machoian and his team expertly toe the line between the two genres, and thanks to the cast, allows for the film to be both touching and deeply disconcerting as well. It’s bold, challenging filmmaking of the highest order that will place itself among the very best films of the year.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA), Curzon Home Cinema (UK)

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