Cinematic depictions of the dissolution of marriages are nothing new. Some can be comedic (“The War of the Roses,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “A Serious Man,” and the 1939 version of “The Women”) and some can be serious (“Kramer Vs. Kramer,” “The Squid and the Whale,” “Carol” and “Marriage Story”).
Writer/director Robert Machoian’s “The Killing of Two Lovers” (Neon) falls into the latter category. Even at only 84 minutes, it’s the kind of emotionally draining movie that is difficult to watch in one sitting. It is, nevertheless, well worth seeing.
The mesmerizing first 13 minutes set the tone for what is to follow, establishing a fragile tension that always feels on the verge of snapping. The opening shot is that of David (Clayne Crawford) standing over a couple asleep in a bed pointing a revolver at them. From the way he is standing and holding the weapon, you can tell he is moments away from pulling the trigger. The flush of a toilet in a bathroom on the other side of the bedroom door is the only thing that stops him. He climbs out a window and runs down the road to the house where is living, temporarily, with his father (Bruce Graham).
Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), David’s estranged wife and the mother of his four children, from whom he is separated, is the woman in the bed. The man sleeping next to Nikki, is Derek (Chris Coy), her new boyfriend. During the separation, David and Niki agreed that they could see other people, something that she has acted on and he has not. This ultimately becomes the driving force behind David’s erratic and obsessive behavior, which includes following Derek into a convenience store and, later, pulling up next to him on the road, planning to shoot him.
David isn’t the only one devastated by the trial separation. His daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto), the eldest of his and Nikki’s kids, is already dealing with the trauma of being a teenager. Compound that by the threat of her parents’ looming divorce and her world spirals downward. David makes a concerted effort to not only maintain a parental relationship with Jess, but also with his sons who alternately love and hate his dad jokes but relish any time they are able to spend with him.
The bleak, winter Utah setting fits the mood of the film like something out of the wardrobe. Machoian’s dialogue is immediate and authentic, coming across as both natural and improvised. For that reason, “The Killing of Two Lovers” has a sort of cinema verité quality, making the raw and personal experiences of these characters feel so real that you sometimes feel the need to look away. To call the ending a surprise diminishes its impact, but doesn’t make it any less unexpected.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.