Director Karyn Kusama’s powerfully dark and disturbingly violent crime drama is certainly challenging, and yet Nicole Kidman’s central performance gives it much broken and beaten heart.
Made up (sometimes a little distractingly) to look seriously haggard and messy, Kidman has never been better here, and apparently she used a dose of the flu contracted during filming to her advantage, meaning she felt as authentically awful as she looks.
LAPD detective Erin Bell (Kidman) attends the scene of a ‘John Doe’ murder and her colleagues react to her presence with pity and even a hint of revulsion. Obviously the victim of some terrible trauma, Bell becomes aware that a feared Californian gang leader named Silas (English actor Toby Kebbell) is active once more, and a tricky non-chronological plot properly kicks in which allows us to see her as a young undercover cop many years before working alongside Chris (Sebastian Stan aka the ‘Winter Soldier’ from several Marvel films).
Determining that she has little to lose, and trying to make peace with her estranged 16-year-old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn, excellent), Bell begins a dangerous (and highly unethical) one-woman quest to bring the loathsome Silas down, and soon she’s questioning the pathetic and dying Toby (James Jordan), pursuing Arturo (Zach Villa) and chasing down Silas’s girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany from TV’s Orphan Black). Kidman’s scenes with Maslany are especially brutal, and they both look sweaty, exhausted and genuinely in pain.
Co-written and co-produced by Kusama’s husband Phil Hay and their regular collaborator Matt Manfredi, this should prove a hard movie to warm to for many, particularly given Det. Bell’s seemingly masochistic edge and her willingness to get the crap belted out of her again and again. And yet we do grow to understand her despite this, and Kidman helps us truly believe that she’s as much destroyed as destroyer.
Destroyer (MA) is in cinemas now