In the midst of Oscar season, it is easy to forget that there are more films to catch than just the ten or so big hitters that are deemed ‘unmissable’ by the Academy. Though I’ll obviously get through all of the nominees before the big night, it’s also nice to walk in to something that hasn’t been discussed to death since the turn of the new year. Destroyer was one such unknown quantity (give or take a couple of Best Actress nods), one that I was very intrigued to explore.
Directed by Karyn Kusama, Destroyer tells the story of Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), a weathered LAPD detective who embarks on a solo mission to avenge the death of a loved one that occurred during an undercover operation sixteen years previously, an operation that essentially ruined her life and changed her existence forever. Weaving between past and present narratives, the film relays a dark and gritty tale, one that isn’t unfamiliar to the crime genre, but nevertheless one that has its moments of intrigue and engaging content. On the whole, though, despite a valiant effort from its leading lady, Destroyer never manages to reach the highest of heights.
The picture boasts a lot of moody intent, evoking the tone and atmosphere of other modern day film noir takes. I’m not sure there is an ounce of light within the narrative, it is pretty much all dark and shade, not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but the overwhelming bleakness of the piece doesn’t particularly help with audience connection. The obvious element of interest is the choice of a female protagonist, something that goes against the norm for usual films of this ilk. Themes of motherhood and gender expectations come in to play alongside the more familiar tropes that this particular genre always contains, and though it actually serves to make the overall narrative much bleaker (for me, at least), the positive angle is that Destroyer certainly serves up something a little different in the form of its troubled, ruined, determined yet desperate main character.
Outside of the female protagonist perspective, though, it has to be said that the film doesn’t stray far from the well trodden tracks of crime recent thrillers. We are treated to the same kind of perp interrogations, the same kind of violent set pieces, the same kind of ‘punching your way through town until you find your guy’ type sequences. As a result, Destroyer feels like a strange combination of fresh but also tired. I’m all for seeing female actors in these hard as nails, flawed human being type roles, but switching the gender alone doesn’t make a crime thriller a home run. If Erin Bell had been Eric Bell, I would have to think that the picture would have been even more generic and forgettable.
All that being said, I would have to say that Destroyer is worth a watch for the performance of Nicole Kidman alone. It’s no surprise to me that all and any awards interest in the film has been on her part. As Detective Bell, Kidman truly is as you’ve never seen her before, and I love this new era of her career that looks to be full of more interesting choices and unconventional genre risks. From The Beguiled to The Killing Of A Sacred Deer to even something like How To Talk To Girls At Parties, she’s really been showing us sides of her that we haven’t seen before, and I’m all in on it.
Kidman exudes both a psychological and physical pain that makes her performance both difficult and addictive to watch. The actions her character takes to achieve her goals might be somewhat cliched and ‘seen before’, but that doesn’t take away from her commitment to the character. To think this is the same actress who dazzled with over the top felinity in Moulin Rouge! is really crazy, and a testament to her range and bravery in diverse feeling roles at this point in her career.
The film really is all about Kidman’s central performance, but nevertheless she is backed up by a solid if not sensational supporting cast including Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, James Jordan and Jade Pettyjohn. Each actor helps to add a layer of grit and darkness to proceedings in their own way, but this is really a case of it’s Nicole’s world, we’re all just living in it.
Overall, Destroyer turns out to be a rather average but not completely unenjoyable crime thriller that doesn’t outstay its welcome but equally never crosses that threshold in to being anything special. In the end, the film might try to do too much to mask its generic plot, with some unnecessary timeline editing and a climax that feels slightly groan worthy, but I’ll take a film that tries too hard over a film that doesn’t try hard enough every single time. It’s not great, some might say it’s not even good, but if nothing else, Destroyer is certainly another notch on Nicole Kidman’s impressive performance belt.