Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Scoot McNairy, Toby Huss
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…a solid, emotionally resonant film that will have you seeing a frequently overlooked actress in a new, grim light.
You can see, from an actor’s perspective, what would be appealing about a completely transformative role; an opportunity to play against type. Charlize Theron did it playing Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ Monster (2003). More recently Christian Bale ballooned to Dick Cheney-size for Adam McKay’s Vice (2018), and now we have Nicole Kidman aka “Our Nicole” becoming the skeletal, damaged protagonist of director Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, to fascinating although not always entirely successful results.
Destroyer tells the tragic tale of self-destructive LAPD detective, Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman). When we first meet her, she looks haggard and wan, barely able to stand up straight as she arrives on the scene of a “John Doe” murder. Erin soon realises this new case relates to her in a very personal way, and we begin a series of flashbacks that continue throughout the film, effectively showing us two timelines and explaining how Erin became the fatalistic scarecrow of her present, and how she’ll confront the many demons of her past.
First and foremost, it should be noted that Nicole Kidman is absolutely fantastic in this role. Although it’s hard to believe we’re uttering the words “neo noir thriller” and “hard-boiled drama” in the same sentence as “Nicole Kidman”, she really gives it her all, effectively portraying a doomed cop desperately seeking any kind of redemption she can find.
Director Karyn Kusama, who wowed genre fans with the effective, chilling The Invitation (2015) also brings much style and visual intrigue to the proceedings, effectively contrasting Erin’s past and present. The screenplay, however, written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi feels like it could have used a little more work. It’s far from bad, but it feels a tad too familiar, playing out as a kind of mashup of Lili Fini Zanuck’s Rush (1991) and sprinkled with a little of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). And though it manages to be effective, and sustains interest, you’re unlikely to be blown away by the conclusion.
Another aspect that may be distracting to some is Kidman’s makeup. Quite a lot of it has been used to make her realistically sickly and hollow-cheeked and it does occasionally render her (let’s be frank) already rather stiff features even more so. Those quibbles aside, however, Destroyer is an extremely effective work. Kidman is capably backed by a support cast that includes Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany and Bradley Whitford – all of whom do exemplary work – and while the story is perhaps not fresh enough to make it an instant classic, it’s a solid, emotionally resonant film that will have you seeing a frequently overlooked actress in a new, grim light.