The Killing of Two Lovers: An Order of Restraint, by David Bax
It’s unfortunate that the only association I have with Clayne Crawford is gossip related (allegations of unprofessional behavior on the set of a television series). Implications that he might be a toxic individual make me want to offer qualifications and asterisks when I point out that his performance in Robert Machoian’s The Killing of Two Lovers is phenomenal. The rest of the cast is great, too. Chris Coy and Sepideh Moafi (both veterans of HBO’s The Deuce) may or may not play the two lovers in question, depending on how you interpret the title. Young Avery Pizzuto more than holds her own with the adults. And Bruce Graham, star of Machoian’s debut feature Forty Years from Yesterday, even makes a delightful one-scene appearance. But Crawford is the focus of nearly every single scene of a sparse, focused movie that requires him to be essentially flawless. He delivers.
Crawford’s David has moved back in with his dad (Graham), only a couple of blocks away from where his wife, Nikki (Moafi), still lives with their four children (Pizzuto plays the oldest). This is meant to be a temporary separation while David and Nikki work through some problems but part of the agreement is that they’re free to see other people during this time and Nikki seems to be establishing more than a casual relationship with Derek (Coy).
When a director adopts a stripped down style like Machoian does here, the danger is that there’s nothing to cover the false notes. Anything disingenuous or contrived will ring out. The Killing of Two Lovers doesn’t get off scot-free (Pizzuto’s “You have to fight for us” speech is a little theatrical) but as a screenwriter, Machoian more often than not strikes a balance with dialogue that is dramatic but still organic.
Perhaps the most truly unassailable element of the movie is Oscar Ignacio Jiménez’ cinematography. The natural winter lighting brings a cold and crisp look, emphasizing how far these characters are from one another’s embrace. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio leaves plenty of room at the top for the massive Utah sky. And the framing and movements are attentive–even curious–but always cautious, staying a safe distance but ready to move in if need be like an old, loyal dog.
Providing an intentional and effective counterweight to all the naturalism on display is the score, if that’s what it is, by Peter Albrechtson (he’s credited as “sound designer”). Singling out and reconstituting sounds from David’s life, like the slam of his truck’s door, the music conjures up the image of some creaky, mechanical monster awakening.
That adds to the tension but it’s just one of many suspenseful elements. For a domestic drama about a struggling marriage, The Killing of Two Lovers often feels like a thriller. It starts with a shocking scene of David with a gun. Whether or not that gun eventually goes off like we’re told guns in stories are supposed to, I’ll leave for you to find out. But the essence of the promise does not go unfulfilled.