Directed by Karyn Kusama.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford, and James Jordan.
Whilst a young LAPD detective, Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) was sent undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a crime gang headed up by the messianic Silas (Toby Kebbell). Almost twenty years later, the irreparable scars of what took place have left her a barely functioning human, estranged from her husband (Scoot McNairy), despised by her daughter, and now Erin must confront her fears when the demons of her past begin to crawl out from the LA underbelly.
With eyes set back in the shadows of her face, features defined by red rings and sun scorched skin, Nicole Kidman’s Erin Bell stares down the lens of the camera. You’re unsure of how much life can be found behind this cold visage, and for how much longer you want to hold her dead eyed gaze, but you’re immediately transfixed, eager to know what path she took to end up in this vampiric state. Brace yourself, because like a slow twisting screw going in at the wrong angle, Destroyer will show you exactly what happened to her.
In a role that might ordinarily have been embodied by an early 2000s Liam Neeson type, resulting in a much different, flashy quotes on the side of a bus kind of movie, Destroyer has found the perfect creative combination of star and director. Karyn Kusama has always positioned powerful women as the focal point of her narratives, from her debut movie Girlfight, through critical misfires Jennifer’s Body and Æon Flux, and while Kidman’s decomposing wraith might not exude the same external presence as those examples, she has a tough, clinging onto all she has left capacity for survival that makes her sympathetic enough, despite her obvious flaws.
It might sound rote to say that Kidman vanishes into the role of Erin, but she does. In fact, she’s consumed by her. Only when we get flashbacks to the events which have transformed Erin into this neglected shape do we get a reminder of the superstar beneath. At times she’s contemptible, especially in pursuit of the next breadcrumb, but you soon begin to realise that this dark angel is ghosting through an LA occupied by even worse spectres than her. It’s not showy in a prosthetic nose Academy baiting way, it’s a performance necessary in telling this dark tale of corruption and redemption, and Kidman, all brittle and bruised, like a failed rock star shuffling towards ignominy, is phenomenal at doing just that.
While the procedural story at the heart of Destroyer is nothing new – failed heists, fractured families, duplicitous twists – it’s told in a way that really gets under your skin, and makes the most of the graffiti laden walls or speak easy bars navigated by our frail anti-hero. The music, by Theodore Shapiro (A Simple Favour), also adds to the burgeoning sense of doom, intermittently introduced in an effectively overbearing fashion.
With Kidman dominating, it’s little wonder that the rest of the actors take a watching brief; Toby Kebbell feels more kids magician than cult crime lord, although he is at the heart of one of the films more unsettlingly intense moments, and Sebastian Stan gets to share some of the more human moments in a film purposefully scratching around for them.
As an LA noir, Destroyer is a familiar path that’s elevated to something quite special by Kidman and Kusama’s powerful double act. A film that’s haunting, atmospheric, and hard to shake once the credits have rolled.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter