"Destroyer" Movie Review
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with telling us that the only constant is change, and though many in Hollywood pride themselves on always keeping audiences guessing (the Coen Brothers have never made the same movie twice, Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep are veritable chameleons), for better or worse, there’s been few quite like Nicole Kidman in recent years. Her last four roles have run the gamut from murderous Civil War-era schoolmarm (The Beguiled) to uptight modern-day personal secretary (The Upside) to ultra-conservative Southern hairdresser (Boy Erased) to superhero mom (Aquaman).
And then comes Destroyer, in which Kidman tackles the most un-glamorous role of her career—a washed-up, emaciated, alcoholic burnout of an LAPD detective fueled by revenge and regret as she hunts down a local gang leader who ruined her life.
From the opening shot of Kidman’s hideously hollow, exhausted eyes straight through to the equally unnerving closing scenes, Destroyer will, quite naturally, destroy you. And though the narrative doesn’t quite match the level of the performances of not only Kidman but her supporting cast, the film still lands as a gut-wrenching display of ultra-melancholy.
Kidman is detective Erin Bell, who—we learn via a 17-years-earlier flashback—went undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a violent gang in Southern California. Led by the creepy, sadistic Silas (Toby Kebbell), the gang was involved in drugs, bank robberies, and all manner of other illegal activity, and though Erin and Chris successfully ingratiated themselves with Silas and his crew, it was obvious from the get-go that they quickly got in over their head.
Back in present day, a murder victim turns up on familiar ground, and the now weather-beaten Bell is pulled back into the world she’d been trying to put behind her for more than a decade. World-weary, and with an ex-husband, a belligerent teen daughter, and her own pariah status in the LAPD, Erin sets out to finally close out that chapter, no matter the risk.
Many actresses could have simply looked at the role as a chance to play make-believe for a month and strip away all the Hollywood glamour to become a hideous version of herself. Kidman, though, following in the footsteps of Charlize Theron in 2003’s Monster, actually becomes this hideous creature and delivers a performance that is as awe-inspiring as it is unforgiving. If Satine in 2002’s Moulin Rouge! was the pinnacle of Kidman’s elegance, Erin Bell is the exact opposite, though both are testaments to her remarkable talent.
Director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) steers the film with a sense of gritty realism reminiscent of Taylor Sheridan’s Frontier trilogy—Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River. And cinematographer Julie Kirkwood adds to the mood by giving Destroyer a harsh, washed-out feel, as if every day takes place in the middle of a searing drought. Though the script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi slogs a little more than it zings, there’s no escaping the admirable effort of everyone contributions. It all adds up to give us a world as melancholy and depressing as any put on film, but for those with a appreciation for game-changing performances and rip-your-heart-out drama, Destroyer fits the bill.