Directed by Karyn Kusama
Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Starring Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scoot McNairy
I’ve striven very hard over the past year to avoid most details about projects, which is why Karyn Kusama’s “Destroyer” took me by surprise. While my goal is to know as few details as possible, so that I am not influenced by the film’s marketing, my awareness of this project was paltry, which is a shame because Ms. Kusama has a keen eye for details, something this film is full of.
“Destroyer” is the story of a burnt out detective on the trail of a murderer, as her past collides with her present. The detective, Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is so far over the edge that she shouldn’t be on the streets. Yet, she knows how to get the job done. The film opens on a dry Los Angeles river viaduct, a slain body and a dye pack-stained $100 bill are the only pieces of evidence that Bell, and we have to go on over the next two hours.
Kusama’s style shifts from the present to the past, building Erin’s story up to the present time. We sense that the character fears something, but we’re not given enough details to know exactly what. This is the film’s strength and its Achilles Heel: the film relies on each detail being layered on one another to move the time-shifting story forward. Within the details are several strong characters, but they never really rise above the story, which was a disappointment.
Erin’s partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan) is familiar to the gang that the duo eventually infiltrate. Together, they become almost chameleon like, blending into their surroundings. Their target is Silas (Toby Kebbell), a violent man with no morals and zero remorse. His girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany) is more than window dressing in this story, which I appreciated.
As the story progresses, we meet the other members of the team as Erin interrogates them trying to hunt down Silas in the modern timeframe. The difficulty with these characters is that they are reduced to chess pieces; as the story doesn’t care about the past as much as it does to solving Erin’s story, each beat less compelling than the last.
The strength of this film is solely in Nicole Kidman’s performance, a fact that she was nominated for a Golden Globe. We see her desperation through the makeup, her relentlessness and the abuse that she takes for past sins. She reminded me of Al Pacino’s Vincent Hannah; always on the edge. The supporting characters should have boosted her performance and in a way they do, but the story forces the secondary characters in to the background along with her character being too far over the edge.
I very much wanted to like this film. Kidman’s performance is absolutely first rate. The story is strong, but the film suffers from showing too much while not giving the audience enough time to take the story in.
2.5 out of 4