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The Killing of Two Lovers movie review: Clayne Crawford’s heavy psychological drama succeeds in depicting an intense claustrophobia

David’s obsession to hold onto his estranged wife Nikki and his four children leads to intense strife within them. Though the couple agrees to explore greener pastures during their time apart, David’s insecurities snowball as he tries to accept his fate.

3.0
Shreya Paul
Sep 09, 2021
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Story

David’s separation with his wife Nikki thrusts him into paranoia and he actually contemplates murdering Nikki and her lover Derek. But he finds himself unable to go through with it and instead ruminates in desperate anxiety, trying to find a way to keep the family of six intact. 

Review

Writer-director Robert Machoian’s intense drama The Killing of Two Lovers is essentially a film about white male rage. It is a compelling portrait of marital upheaval that rebrands the age-old norms of a dysfunctional family unit. David (Clayne Crawford) and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) try to navigate a separation period in their marriage. This puts David back with his ailing father blocks away from the couple’s house, where Nikki stays with their four children. Having agreed to get involved with other people during this stage, Nikki gets involved with Derek (Chris Coy), a fact that causes massive anxiety for David, whose only and obsessive goal is to reunite his family unit.

Crawford’s hold over his craft is evident from the way he infuses into David a marked pathetic-ness. Best known for his work in Rectify and Lethal Weapon, Crawford owns his myopic outlook in the film, one that hinders him from considering the bigger picture.

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Machoian places Utah at the centre of all action. The small-town milieu works brilliantly in establishing a claustrophobic setting for David’s cloying presence. Cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez’s lens keenly captures desolate streets lined with abandoned homes; empty car parks that almost gape out, waiting for occupants; bleak convenience stores that have little to no allure. It is in this ennui, that David’s sense of tension gets spotlighted. Jiménez’s use of 4:3 ratio for the entire runtime of 85 minutes feels a purposeful move to bring audiences closer (literally and metaphorically) to the recesses of his mind in order to expose the unease. Machoian’s treatment of David’s character stops just short of unadulterated psychopathy. He insists on establishing the fact that the two still have a vague sense of belonging to each other. A particularly moving scene shows David play a soulful, acoustic number while his gaze remains steadfast on Nikki, the camera follows this and for an instant, it feels like things may actually lead to reconciliation. But moments later, a brutal reality check thrusts the intimacy into oblivion and the scene reaches a dramatic crescendo, further proving the couple’s intoxicating dynamic as something of a force to reckon with.

One of the most potent tropes that the maker uses is to depict the entire film through David’s crumbling mind. We hardly ever get to see Nikki’s point of view. She’s seldom the orchestrator of the scene, but always the subject. As David’s sense of delusion and denial peaks, audiences are made aware of the lack of a bankable narrator. This is a purposeful move on Machoian’s part. He sets Crawford up as both the protagonist and the unreliable host of the world he painstakingly builds.

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Though his single-minded desire to keep his family unit intact never really reaches fruition, the audiences are made privy to the sheer desperation that plays in his senses. The disgust that his teenage daughter Jesse projects on both her parents affects David greatly. Ever since the separation, he struggles to reconcile with his beta male status, which is only stoked by Jesse’s anger.

The Killing of Two Lovers is essentially about a single man’s journey of what-ifs. His inner paranoia aside, the narrative feels heavily aligned to only his version of things, a purposeful move by the makers to bring out his isolation.

Verdict: The film is a gripping narrative of loves lost, and artfully showcases the pain of being an obsessive partner. Especially noteworthy is Clayne Crawford’s captivating performance as a failing family man, adamant to not let his world crumble around him.

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