Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell
Director: Karyn Kusama
Running Time: 121 mins
Destroyer is an American film about a battle-hardened LAPD detective who sets out in an attempt to make amends with those from a past undercover mission, as she continues to battle with the trauma of her past.
On the surface, this is a solid crime drama with a gritty atmosphere, emotional intrigue, and some great make-up work. If you go deeper, though, it proves to be so much more, with an ingenious screenplay that holds its cards brilliantly throughout, furthered by striking directing from Karyn Kusama, and a staggering performance from Nicole Kidman, all of which makes Destroyer a film full of intrigue and surprises, and far more than what you may think of it at first glance.
Let’s start off with the story, which plays out detailing two different periods of Detective Erin Bell’s life. On the one hand, we have the intrigue that follows her as she tries to seek out those from a past life of hers after encountering a suspicious murder, and on the other, we see her life undercover with those very people, and how it came to have an impact on her for years to come.
At first, I have to say that it’s a story structure that doesn’t quite work, not giving up enough detail and background to really grab you over the course of the first act, and trying a little too hard to retain an air of mystery when a little more exposition is needed at times.
With that said, if you stick with it, Destroyer will make it all worth your while, developing into a fascinating portrayal of life outside the law, all the while gradually linking up all of the mysteries and intrigue that it sets up early on as the true significance of everything that has come before becomes clearer.
It’s a difficult structure to get right, and while the parallel stories of Bell’s undercover period and her current life prove a little disjointed early on, the film really comes into its own in the second and third acts, and opens up doors of drama and intrigue that you would have never expected at first, something that makes for an utterly enthralling watch.
That ingenious screenplay is brought together brilliantly by director Karyn Kusama, who bides her time very effectively as the stakes begin to ramp up throughout. At first, the film may come off as a bit of a slow character study, but Kusama cleverly uses the lethargy and narrative ambiguity of the first act to draw you in without even realising it, and then with a series of stunning flashpoints throughout, completely changes the dynamic of the entire film, which keeps the story thoroughly engrossing, and brings you in ever deeper as the stakes continue to develop towards the finish.
Kusama gives Destroyer a brilliantly mysterious vibe that’s able to grab you in such organic fashion, and along with the gritty nature of its surface crime story, she also opens up the film to allow you to delve into the psyche of the main character, with the series of dramatic revelations playing in brilliantly to an ever-changing perspective around Detective Erin Bell.
And that’s where Nicole Kidman’s performance comes in, which is without a doubt one of the best of her career. Again, while it may not seem so at first, Kidman is measured and very understated throughout, brilliantly portraying the tortured soul of a woman who has been through something very damaging, and while she conceals the true depth and scale of that emotion to let it all be played out by the screenplay, she’s absolutely staggering to watch throughout.
And then we have the make-up work, which is just as impressive. Sometimes, performances that go against type for A-list actors can come off as somewhat of a gimmick, but along with Kidman’s brilliant turn, the heavy make-up that’s used adds so, so much to her character. From first glance, she’s clearly a battle-hardened and tortured individual, but the make-up is so striking – at times even proving the scene-stealing element – that it creates further mystery around Erin Bell, once again leading into the film’s ingenious screenplay.
Overall, I was hugely impressed by Destroyer. It’s a film that may not seem like much at first, but if you give it time, it’s all undoubtedly worth your while, with an ingenious screenplay with so much more depth than you could possibly imagine, striking and innovative direction from Karyn Kusama, scene-stealing make-up work, and a stunning central performance from Nicole Kidman, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0.