Sometimes picture perfect actors need to get some mud on their face before they truly shine. This has been the case for Charlize Theron in Monster and now Nicole Kidman in Destroyer. Each delivering arguably their best career performances, one has to wonder just how freeing having your face clad with make up and prosthetics must be for people who are used to gobsmacking fans. Amazingly, Kidman doesn’t seem to age whether co-starring with Theron in Bombshell or playing Aquaman’s mom. The latter could have been de-aging technology because what wasn’t digitally rendered in Aquaman?
Destroyer allows Kidman to let it all hang out as cantankerous, unhinged LA cop, Erin Bell. This is a surprisingly Australian film when you consider the shared heritage of director-actor duo of Karyn Kusama and Nicole Kidman. The country has had its fair share of outback westerns and it would have been interesting for it to take place on the continent. However, Los Angeles crime procedurals work better in Hollywoodland and it wouldn’t be a bull in a China shop without breaking a few dishes. Luckily, it’s still fresh… compelled by Kusama’s drive to mimic the grandeur of Michael Mann’s crime epic, Heat, and the gender role reversal of the lead.
The gritty crime drama thriller follows a restless police detective who tries to tie up loose ends after a tragic undercover assignment. Instead of spoon-feeding her audience, Kusama jumps back and forth in time with flashbacks building to the event that changed everything for Bell. It’s easy to figure out where you are in the story thanks to Kidman’s hairstyle and sobriety, laying the foundations for a twist and intense third act.
Kusama casts Kidman in an uncharacteristic role, purposefully downplaying her exquisite facial features and immersing her in the gritty, unrelenting world of Erin Bell. While Kidman’s the big name and largely carries Destroyer with her convincing and headstrong performance, she’s not alone. Supported by some up-and-coming actors who deserve more credit for their contribution in other blockbusters, Toby Kebbell and Sebastian Stan bite down on smaller roles.
“Move along, this isn’t your neighbourhood watch…”
Destroyer is undoubtedly the Kidman-Kusama show and it keeps coming back to them like a blend of Monster and Sabotage, taking a typical LA cop crime thriller genre film and shaking things up. Kidman’s gritty and brilliant turn is reminiscent of the dramatic shift for Charlize Theron in her Oscar-winning performance as Aileen Wuornos. She reinvents her career much like the spate of mature actors undertaking special op vendettas, however within the confines of a much more nuanced and complex drama. An old school star headlining a crime drama ensemble piece with a trashy edge, delving into the political scrambling of a heist connects it with the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-thriller, Sabotage.
Kusama elevates this from being a typical crime procedural, adding weight in terms of themes, cleverly using sound design to add an epic feel and drenching everything in the mire of a grim, seedy Los Angeles. Intense, visceral and packing a punch, it’s overdressed for the occasion and unwieldy trying to balance a seesawing flashback narrative. The plotting is convoluted, the supporting characters are thin and apart from the Dirty Harry posturing and a game-changing twist in the third act, it’s rather vapid. You can appreciate the style and texture, which remains fresh thanks to a heavyweight performance and female lead, however the story’s flimsy foundations and supporting characters make this gritty affair middling and portentous.
You can appreciate the vision, the refresh and the crime drama’s style. Unfortunately, the already-thin characters are dulled by the choppy storytelling. Hanging onto Kidman’s wrecking ball performance and Kusama’s epic overtures makes it easier to watch Destroyer but it never truly gets under your skin. It’s much more bearable than some of the other typical and overwrought procedurals passing for films these days, but it’s rarely emotionally engaging and could’ve been so much more with a more fluid and textured screenplay.
The bottom line: Stormy