Having just watched Black Bear (2020), which explores gender roles in its arty maelstrom of a story, The Killing of Two Lovers shows how to nail it. Robert Machoian immerses us in the head and heart of husband and dad David as his marriages crumbles.
The opening scene reminded me of the start of The Invisible Man (2020) where, in one shot, you understand the whole premise of the movie. David (Clayne Crawford) is living with his dad in rural Utah as he and his wife Niki (Sepideh Moafi) try to fix their marriage. It is clear that Niki is the one who needs space and, as they have agreed that they can see other people, David has to contend with the knowledge that she has a new lover.
They have four kids; the three younger boys are oblivious to the tensions but older daughter Jesse (Avery Pizzuto) is openly antagonistic. David is caught in a situation that he doesn’t want to be in, trying to manage his rage whilst also being a good dad and the person Niki wants him to be. We can see it’s lose / lose for him, that Niki is moving on and his choices are to suck it up or to explode and destroy everything.
We spend a lot of time in David’s head, following close to him as he watches his family from a distance, stalks Nikki’s lover Derek (Chris Coy) and practices shooting his hand gun. There is a rather brilliant sound design that overlays guttural, industrial sound whenever the rage is building in David. It seems to foreshadow something violent, as if in his head he is killing the two lovers.
The struggle he experiences – to suppress his rage, to try and understand why Niki loved him once but doesn’t anymore, how to be a good dad when he no longer lives with his kids – is the crisis of masculinity in today’s world. As women get to say they are unhappy, that they want more from their lives, how do you hold on to what makes you feel like a successful man? David still has a job and a father to care for, he has four great kids, but he doesn’t understand why he has been rejected and what he should do about it. He is far from accepting it and moving on, from respecting his wife’s choices even though you can see in his heart he wants to be that person.
I felt gripped by this story. The performances are so authentic that I lost sight of it being fictional. The interaction with the kids is so ordinary and normal – it is unsurprising to see that the three boys all have the same last name as they interact like real brothers. The ending is not quite what I expected but it is just right and powerful in its pathos.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.