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Destroyer (Nicole Kidman) - DVD Review

Destroyer

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

MUCH has been made about the transformative nature of Nicole Kidman’s performance in Destroyer. But while that is certainly striking – sometimes to the point of distraction – it’s also worth noting just how good a cop thriller the film really is.

Director Karyn Kusama imbues the film with a gritty reality that makes for a frequently tough watch. But by dropping a female protagonist into the dark heart of proceedings, she strikes another positive blow for gender equality within this kind of genre.

Kidman plays broken down LAPD detective Erin Bell, a virtual down and out, who spends most of her time in a haze and seems to be living out of her car, the nearest bar or her office. When a body is found that is linked to an old case of Bell’s, she seizes the opportunity to investigate and potentially right the wrongs of her past.

The ensuing film divides its time between her present day investigation and the case that led to her decay. Two decades earlier, she and an FBI agent (Sebastian Stan) had been assigned to infiltrate and bring down a crew of robbers led by the Charles Manson-style Silas (Toby Kebbell). But the assignment ended in tragedy, with Silas still at large.

Back in the present day, Bell tracks down his known associates in the hope of ruining his return, while also trying to make some form of amends for the lives she has ruined in the intervening years, including those of her ex-husband (Scoot McNairy) and estranged daughter (Jade Pettyjohn).

Had Destroyer been made in the ’70s or ’80s, the gender of its lead character would almost certainly have been flipped, with an actor such as Al Pacino or Nick Nolte stepping in. But while Kusama’s film certainly shares many similarities with the gritty style of the 70s (in particular), it is arguably made all the more compelling (and original) by its choice of lead now.

Kidman is mesmerising as Bell, even if her make-up sometimes seems too distracting. She wreaks despair and failure, yet exhibits a pent-up rage that fires her determination to try to do the right thing. She is grimly fascinating, if not overly sympathetic.

Destroyer

Watching her try to navigate the sordid, violent, misogynistic world in which she inhabits is frequently brutal and often unsettling but it’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t try to soften its blows. They make you feel it more and the sense of decay is almost stifling at times.

And the unfolding story, co-written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, has more than a few tricks up its sleeve too, including one or two really well orchestrated twists and a couple of super intense shoot-outs. It’s not just Kidman’s gutsy performance that you’ll be talking about afterwards.

There are some problems, of course. The unrelenting grimness will feel too oppressive for some, never more so than during the film’s one big misstep involving Kidman allowing herself to be felt up while interrogating a suspect (a backward step for the gender thing).

While the likes of Kebbell’s villain, Shamier Anderson’s partner and Bradley Whitford’s sleazy lawyer aren’t afforded enough screen time to really make their eye-catching support count.

For most of the time, though, Destroyer grips by virtue of its edgy vitality and unapologetically downbeat attitude. It’s desperation is addictive.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 3mins
UK DVD Release: May 27, 2019

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