Nicole Kidman has had a long history of transforming in her roles. From her Academy Award winning performance in Hours saw her wear a crooked prosthetic nose to her scruffy look for The Paperboy,
Look at her gaunt and sunken face in the brittle Destroyer, it looks as though Kidman goes to great lengths for this gritty thriller.
Directed by Karyn Kusama, who also gave us phenomenal films such as The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body, the film revolves around LAPD detective Erin Bell. When she was young, she was placed undercover with a gang of grungy bank thieves. However, the whole operation went haywire and now Erin suffers from the consequences. Alcoholic, gruff, and estranged from her daughter, when a murder arrives on her beat
Like a combination between True Detective and Point Break, Destroyer is a formidable piece of work that is anchored by Kidman’s gruelling performance. It really is the actress who keeps this piece moving and, in a similar way to Atomic Blonde, when she takes the punches, she truly takes the punches. She is affected by everything and Kidman makes us feel every bruise. There’s great support from Sebastian Stan and Tatiana Masalany but Bradley Whitford’s performance is the true scene-stealer here as a pompous and crooked lawyer.
Toby Kebbell’s villainous Silas should stalk the whole film. His menace or craze should be haunting, just as Kidman’s Erin is stalked by the mere thought of him. But he is barely seen and underused (as per the norm in Kebbell’s portfolio.) With a ridiculous hairstyle reminiscent of a Charmed villain, It’s a shame because the film has to have Erin brood on a proper monster of a man but, instead, it never comes to fruition.
Karyn Kusama’s previous work The Invitation was an adept and different look at the horror/thriller genre but with Destroyer, it feels like a step back because there is a lack of originality. The story does twist in an unpredictable manner and is shot gorgeously but then falls back on usual clichés. For once it would be nice to see a film with a detective who isn’t gruff nor an alcoholic but still has the battle the seedy underground. The genre-tropes, much like the punches, are felt here.
It is the same with the music. Theodore Shapiro’s score is reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood’s for You Were Never Really Here which gives it this generic feel. Synth heavy night time scenes with some softer violins – it’s like composers have the archetype and it doesn’t feel original in Destroyer. That being said, the sound design is impeccable and every crunch of bone upon bone
Overall, the film is a good maudlin police drama where you are gripped enough to follow the story to the bitter end. There are some absolute gorgeous scenes here including a snow-scape that is one of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen. Kidman goes to massive depths in order to transform into this character and it shows here. Though the film may feel somewhat predictable in places, the emotional and physical heft that Kidman goes through is enough to keep you invested.
Destroyer played as part of the BFI London Film Festival