Destroyer

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Verdict: 
6/10 – An uneven narrative and annoying plot holes mean even a transformed Nicole Kidman can’t save this crime-drama.
Release Date: 
Friday, January 25, 2019
Written by: 

Destroyer follows a weary Los Angeles police detective as she seeks to reconnect with people from a past undercover assignment.

6

Nicole Kidman is no stranger to transforming her appearance for roles.

The Australian actress has undergone dramatic makeunders for the likes of TV show Top of the Lake: China Girl as well as for her Oscar-winning turn as Virginia Woolf in 2002 drama The Hours.

But Kidman is perhaps most unrecognisable as utterly exhausted LAPD detective Erin Bell in Karyn Kusama's new crime-drama Destroyer, in which she sports dirty brown hair and heavy make-up complete with sunspots and deep wrinkles.

With a screenplay from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the film kicks off with Bell stumbling onto the scene of a John Doe murder at a viaduct - much to the annoyance of her police colleagues - who take her bloodshot eyes and painful looking limp to be evidence of her having been drinking all night.

In spite of informing the officers that she knows the victim's identity, Bell is brushed off and instead embarks on her own investigation - quickly making a visit to an FBI contact, where she explains that she is certain a $100 bill stained from a dye pack at the scene is connected to gang activity which occurred years earlier, and is proof that the group's leader, a nasty character named Silas (Toby Kebbell), is operating again.

As Bell delves further into Silas' whereabouts by using information garnered from a network of shady figures, a series of flashbacks are deployed to show how she and a cop named Chris (Sebastian Stan) went undercover to infiltrate the gang in the California desert and became absorbed in some dangerous activity involving bank robberies and guns.

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Director Karyn Kusama delves a little into the grey area officers fall into when working undercover, but her key focus is exploring the shock waves which can be caused by a single, traumatic event.

Kidman throws herself into portraying a woman at her physical and emotional limit, slurring her words while knocking back glasses of whiskey in bars, or fighting with her rebellious teenage daughter Shelby Bell (Jade Pettyjohn) as she threatens to take off with her much older boyfriend Jay (Beau Knapp).

Stan turns in a confident performance, but in the end doesn't get a whole lot to do, while Kebbell does well in portraying a particularly intimidating villain in a straggly black wig.

Make sure to watch out for Tatiana Maslany as Silas' long-suffering girlfriend Petra, and Bradley Whitford as dodgy lawyer DiFranco.

However, Kusama goes to great lengths to ensure that the audience knows that this story belongs to Bell and no one else.

Having helmed films like Girlfight, the director makes no attempt to highlight the central figure's gender, and having stripped away any conventional signifiers of femininity, Bell is able to work effectively in a man's world and subvert gender expectations, especially in relation to physical strength and intellectual prowess.

In the past, such a forceful character would have undoubtedly played by Clint Eastwood or another cowboy-type.

But even with Kidman's dedication and the grittiness of the Los Angeles backdrop, implausible plot threads and the entirely miserable nature of the concept mean that the narrative never really hits its stride, and the whole project ends up feeling like an extra-long episode of True Detective.

© Cover Media

Kusama delves a little into the grey area officers fall into when working undercover, but her key focus is exploring the shock waves which can be caused by a single, traumatic event.

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