Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany
Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute
What It Is: In Karyn Kusama’s thriller ‘Destroyer’, the receipt of an ink-marked bill in the office mail propels veteran LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) on a perilous journey to find the murderer and gang leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell), and perhaps to finally make peace with her tortured past.
What We Think: Few movies have the nerve to be as confrontationally ugly as “Destroyer,” a crime drama centered around an irreparably conked out soul played without egotism by Nicole Kidman. You’ll hear a lot about her transformation under the guidance of director Karyn Kusama (“The Invitation,” “Jennifer’s Body”), and for good reason. She’s unrecognizable as demon-haunted LAPD detective Erin Bell. She’s painful to look at and shambles her body across the screen like her joints are crushing glass. Here is a woman destroyed, by the choices she’s made in the past and by those that still lay before her. It’s fascinating to see but simply does not work.
You are probably not supposed to laugh, for instance, when we first see Kidman, her classical beauty so smothered in aging makeup, ill-fitting denim and leather and a graying wig that she looks less like the alcoholic detective she’s meant to be playing and more like a reanimated corpse. It starts with a bullet-riddled ‘John Doe’ in an LA canal, a blown dye pack, a mysterious tattoo and a murder weapon left at the scene of the crime. After what seems to have been a hard night of heavy drinking, detective Bell struggles onto the scene and thinks she may know who the murderer is. Soon another dye-stained banknote shows up, delivered to her office without a return address. “Silas is back.”
The stained bills hark back to a job from years before, when a still-green Bell went undercover with her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), to infiltrate a bank-robbing California gang headed by the ruthless Silas (Toby Kebbell). The heist went wrong and Bell still has a score to settle. Each bullet casing is a bread crumb Bell uses to methodically track down Silas’ old crew, with Silas as her final destination. The LA she prowls has rarely looked uglier on film and is oppressive in its bleakness, as is the thudding percussive and synth music that scores it.
Our Grade: C-, As Bell inches closer to Silas in real-time, the puzzle pieces of her past come together in flashback, forming, in the end, a picture of the exact moral failing that derailed her life. That’s a long time to expect an audience to wait, and by the time it comes rigor mortis has set in. Kusama is more enamored of the film’s timeline than its characters, and neither is strong enough to carry “Destroyer” across the finish line.
Still, Bell is a grimly fascinating character, raw with anguish – for retribution, for annihilation. It’s not an unfamiliar character in films about cracked cops, but it is singular to see a woman occupying a role that is usually reserved for men. That fascination, though, is entirely academic. If there’s a powerful performance here, it’s obscured by the ludicrous mask of pain in which Kidman is outfitted.
If you want to see a better film from Kusama I would recommend The Invitation. Click that link to check it out.