Directed by Karyn Kusama.
Starring Nicole Kidman, Jade Pettyjohn, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Scoot McNairy. Toby Huss, James Jordan, Beau Knapp, Shamier Anderson, Zach Villa, and Bradley Whitford
A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.
Psychology tells us that mothers have a maternal instinct to care for the children. Enter Nicole Kidman’s LAPD detective Erin Bell, where the actress is unrecognizable and exclusively decked out in black; everything from her somewhat unkempt dark hair to her leather jacket suggests that we are dealing with both a badass and someone still grieving. And while it’s clear that she does love her daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn, putting in fine work in a role that’s a far cry in tone from her Nickelodeon adventures), the fact that she is ditching school, has no strong relationship with her mother, doesn’t seem to be much closer to her father Ethan (Scott McNairy), and most alarming of all, is madly in love with a tattooed, muscular, prone to violence adult man despite being underage (according to the film there’s nothing Erin can really do about it considering that the age of consent in Los Angeles is 16), well if Erin ever once did know how to break through to her daughter, she certainly doesn’t anymore.
Occupying Erin’s will to live, let alone her time, is a resurfaced cold case involving her now deceased boyfriend (and father of Shelby) where the two detectives went undercover within a nasty gang of bank robbers led by Toby Kebbell’s Silas, a real unstable piece of work that forces another member of the group to undergo some Russian roulette during one of the earliest flashbacks (give the makeup department much credit for making Nicole Kidman look both youthful and older/rugged, accomplishing each task without causing any distraction aside from the initial stun). Not much information is given as to how she behaves prior to Silas provoking her once more after 17 years of tragedy and no contact, leading to quite a few narrative questions (how does someone depicted as this disturbed , laser-focused on revenge, and outwardly broken find another husband in the first place, or why does she remarry considering heartbreak is what still persists and is driving the story), but such logical gripes fade into the background as Nicole Kidman delivers a fierce and physical performance motivated by vengeance.
A dead body is found containing connections to Silas, although it’s more like an invite to play a game of cat and mouse rather than a simple connection. Naturally, Erin is unable to resist, hunting down members of the now defunct band of criminals one by one, going as far as giving in to the demand of one final handjob for a fatally injured and bedridden former criminal associate before his remaining 30-day window of life is up, all for some details on where she can find someone that can disclose Silas’s location. It’s a vulnerable moment that expresses her desperation, but don’t let such actions fool you into thinking Erin can’t handle some heavy-duty firearms or hold her own during some brutal physicality.
Directed by Karyn Kusama (recently having helmed the underseen independent thriller treasure The Invitation), Destroyer explores the past just as much as the present. Through the flashbacks, we get an understanding of not only what went wrong, but strongly acted small scenes of Erin and Chris (Sebastian Stan) falling in love and displaying their affections for one another. The couple is also put in a position to make a difficult decision that should be understandable and easy to relate for most; they don’t make the right decisions per se but still cling onto their morals when it matters most. Split equally between the past and present, impressive editing is utilized to hide the grand twist, but it’s debatable if such a thing actually adds anything to the story besides making the closing moments unnecessarily slightly confusing. There are also reservations to be had regarding some last-minute reveals, but again, there are all things that the characterization of Erin, both physical and mental make up for.
Leading up to that climax as a combination of scenes that bold feel necessary and superfluous to the plot, almost as if the script from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi is stalling for no discernible reason, but an emotional scene towards the end sees Erin explaining everything to her daughter, where it’s brought up that when she was a child they used to go camping and one time ended up lost in the snow. Shelby never understood why, especially considering the perilous nature of it all, but it’s clear afterwards that this was probably the only way for Erin to clear her mind. It’s only fitting that for the duration of Destroyer, she’s lost in a mental fog pursuing vengeance relentlessly, but in the back of her mind is constantly fighting to give her daughter a better life. Nicole Kidman kicks all kinds of serious ass here and it’s glorious to behold, but if you strip away that mother-daughter bond, your left with a generic thriller swapping gender roles. Destroyer doesn’t reverse the roles, it makes one wish they stay reversed for a while to explore the genre from similar and different perspectives.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com