This is a good week for films with captivating opening sequences. In the latest work from Robert Machoian, The Killing of Two Lovers, we open with an image of David (Clayne Crawford, the Lethal Weapon TV series) standing over the sleeping figures of a man and a woman. He raises his gun as if to kill them both when he hears the sound of children running around outside the door. He immediately jumps out the window and walks the 100 yards or so to the house of his father, and it’s only then that we start to piece together David’s story. He’s separated from his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi, The Deuce), but the two have vowed to attempt working things out for the sake of their four kids (three younger boys, all played by the filmmaker’s real-life sons) and older teen daughter Jess (Avery Pizzuto). But they’ve also agreed that they can see other people, which isn’t easy to do in this small Utah town, but she’s managed to find a new boyfriend in Derek (Chris Coy, Detroit).
The film gives us the rare opportunity to get into the mind of a man who just wants his life to go back to normal. Nikki is the only woman he’s ever loved, and being without her has made him lose himself to the point where he actually contemplates killing her in her sleep. There’s no way of knowing if he’d actually go through with it, but it somehow puts his mind at ease thinking he could if he wanted to. We’re meant to empathize with David, who shows every sign of being a loving husband, great father, and rational, reasonable man, even as he later confronts Derek outside his home. But that doesn’t keep director Machoian from inserting elements that keep us feeling ill at ease when he’s focused on David. The soundscape of The Killing of Two Lovers is startling at times, employing sound effects (often of car doors slamming shut and other metallic grindings) where there is no visible source of the sound. The resulting impact is more about the noise that’s going on inside David’s rattled brain, and it keeps us uneasy while watching him throughout the course of his day, going to the hardware store, dropping his kids at school, taking them to the park to launch rockets, and trying in vain to connect with Jess, who seems genuinely traumatized by the separation, and is the only person in the family who seems completely unbothered by speaking the ugly truth about her concerns and fears.
There’s a single-take sequence involving a fight that breaks out unexpectedly that is so beautifully put together and provides the impetus David needs to bring his private, slightly deviant inside thoughts to the surface in a truly scary way. The Killing of Two Lovers is a beautifully written and directed work, and it makes me genuinely excited to see what Machoian’s already-shot next feature (a re-teaming with Crawford, no less) will express. He’s a masterful storyteller who is deeply interested in getting us inside the minds of his characters, and few things get me more interested in a filmmaker than that.
The film opens Friday theatrically at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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