THE STORY – As a young cop, Erin Bell went under cover to infiltrate a gang in the California desert — with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges, Bell must work her way back through the remaining members while confronting her own demons.
THE CAST – Nicole Kidman, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell & Scoot McNairy
THE TEAM – Karyn Kusama (Director), Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 123 Minutes
By Liam Heffernan
The opening shot of Karyn Kusama’s (“The Invitation“) dark character drama is a close-up on the face of the protagonist Erin Bell. It tells you everything you need to know about the director’s latest work. “Destroyer” belongs to Nicole Kidman and you have never seen her like this before.
The story of “Destroyer” begins with a murder. An unknown figure lies on the ground, gun by his side and blood on the street. As Erin (Nicole Kidman) approaches, practically stumbling onto the crime scene, the other cops treat her with derision and pity. This opening sequence sets up the inevitable arc of the film, as Erin battles her demons while evading the mysterious Silas (Toby Kebbell), whose return from prison puts her life in jeopardy, which naturally and inextricably entwines itself with the case at hand.
The narrative is hardly pioneering, but Kusama is at least aware enough of the film’s strengths, namely Nicole Kidman, that she manages to keeps us engaged. Erin’s daughter is introduced early on in the film, providing ample motive for the character to ensure that justice is served and everyone is kept safe, or otherwise, experience would have taught her to end it all before the first act even closed. Of course, it wouldn’t be a crime drama without a plot twist, and though Kusama make us wait, it is unexpected thanks to its dismissal of the usual giveaways. The ultimate resolution is bittersweet, with a final three minutes that are unnecessarily self-gratuitous, as are the numerous shots inserted into the narrative which puts an avoidable dampener on an otherwise adequate experience. It’s though as if the editors couldn’t trust the audience to put everything together on our own.
By all accounts, this is a conventional crime film. The gritty style of the cinematography conveys the chaos and the unpredictability of the world that Erin inhabits, both professionally and personally. The score is low and atmospheric, though at times invasive and too prominent. Locations are imbued with a sense of imminent hostility when not unnervingly baron. However, the film’s nod to convention does little more than establish it as a well-made but easily forgotten contribution to the genre, with no more horrendous mistakes than noteworthy achievements.
Until, of course, we look at Kidman’s powerhouse performance in the lead role. There is scarcely a shot in the film without her appearance, and none without her commanding presence. Erin is a broken soul, as damaged and explosive as they come. She is constantly on the edge and a prisoner of past trauma. Few performances in recent years have been as intense, but Kidman delivers something rivaled only by “The Hours” for what could be considered her best performance of all time. There is little to turn the Academy’s head in “Destroyer” but they should all pay attention to this; a nomination is not just deserved but should be expected for Nicole Kidman. Some credit is also due to the supporting cast, albeit their roles extend to nothing more than to prompt Kidman’s character. Sebastian Stan is the young officer whose appearance in the film far understates his current star power after appearing in last year’s “I, Tonya” and the Marvel films. It’s a solid turn no doubt from the exciting actor but don’t flock to the theatre for him or you’ll be bitterly frustrated. However, Toby Kebbell’s brief appearance as the evasive Silas was believable and commendable, while Jade Pettyjohn perfectly encapsulates the rebellious teenager so much so I hope to never meet.
“Destroyer,” unfortunately, is too dependent on its lead to warrant much more acclaim in its own right, and because of this, its star may not get the praise she warrants either. The film succeeded in ticking all the right boxes in the right sequence but failed to tap into whatever it needed to to be considered more than your ordinary crime-thriller. That said, the passion for bringing this project to life and telling Erin’s story is clear from Karyn Kusama and a dedicated Nicole Kidman, with scenes of uncomfortable intensity occasionally diffused with moments of bleak comic charm. Sadly, overall, it has to accept itself as a vehicle for one immense performance which deserved slightly better. It will ride these coattails through an Oscar campaign in the vain hope of securing a nod for its score or its makeup, but this is the Nicole Kidman show and what a show it is.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Nicole Kidman is the film. Her dark, powerful and transformative powerhouse performance is all you’ll be talking about afterward.
THE BAD – Unnecessary shots are littered throughout, clearly meaning something to the director but are never explained to the audience. This occasional lack of clarity really takes away from the film as a whole. Supporting parts are not given enough to do.
THE FINAL SCORE – 6/10