“The Killing of Two Lovers” is a break-up story as stark as its Utah-in-winter setting, as brutal as its title.
The debut feature of writer-director Robert Machoian throws us into the seemingly quiet aftermath of a split, the calm after what appears to have been a just-as-calm “we need to work through some things” parting.
But there isn’t any “working through” whatever is going on here. That “calm” is an illusion, “no fault divorce” a myth. A family has been torn in two, and here’s a movie about the psychic violence that all-too-often dissolves into physical violence.
We meet David, given a simmering-before-the-boil energy by Clayne Crawford of TV’s version of “Lethal Weapon,” as he’s standing over a couple in bed, a revolver in his hand and wondering what to do with it.
We come to learn it’s his bed. Or it used to be. That’s his wife sleeping in it with another man. Those noises in the rest of the house are their four kids, getting restless just before dawn.
David gets as far as cocking the trigger before slipping out a window and sprinting down the street.
In a small town (This was filmed in Kanosh, Utah.), there’s no such thing as a “quiet” break-up. Everybody knows. David’s sprint ends at his pickup. And he only has to drive it another block or two to wind up at his dad’s house, where he’s staying. That’s how big this town is.
As David tries to get a handle on walking the kids to school and entertaining them on weekends, we meet soft-spoken wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi of “The ‘L’ Word” and “The Deuce”). She sounds reasonable. But we also figure out how recent all this is, how quickly she worked the “see other people” into the equation, where she met the guy in her bed now and just how she and David ended up together, how young they were.
Nikki has late-awakening dreams, only some of which she’s articulated.
“So what did you have planned before Jess ruined it?”
That’s how she puts the question on “date night,” describing their oldest — their daughter — as a mistake, a trap they fell into.
She wants to know if David’s looking at places to rent. No wonder he’s confused. This isn’t “date night” banter. It’s tidying up and moving on.
But David? His dream is to get everything he had back. That is literally “all I think about.”
Machoian paints this portrait in pain in sound. We hear metal-on-metal, clinking and thunking noises as David drives around, grasping at what he should do. Confront? Kill? That’s his mind grinding its gears.
It’s a film of perfectly-observed moments — their three boys abandoning their still-rolling bikes as they dash for the school bus, Dad trying entirely-too-hard to make a snowy Saturday in the park, trying out model rockets, engaging, losing more ground with the oldest child, their daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto, terrific).
And it’s a story of blunt counseling, some of it coming from that rebelling teen.
“You know, Dad, you need to FIGHT for us.”
That’s what we’re worried about. Amid these fully-rounded characters and vividly-recognizable lives, the threat of violence, of David’s frazzled state and the fact that he has a gun hangs over everything. What form will this “fight” take? Will he and “Mom’s new boyfriend (Chris Coy)” have a conversation, or have it out?
The situations are documentary-real, the acting barely feels like “acting” at all as we invest in the story, feel its pain and fear its outcome.
Machoian never lets this lapse into melodrama, never allows the reality of it all to lapse. The fact that he can take such an intimate, over-familiar situation and discover surprises and twists in it may be his most impressive feat of all.
MPA Rating: R for language (the MPA doesn’t care about “violence,” apparently)
Cast: Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Avery Pizzuto and Chris Coy
Credits: Scripted and directed by Robert Machoian. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:24