Destroyer review Nicole Kidman Sebastian Stan

Year: 2018
Director(s): Karyn Kusama
Writer(s): Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 120 mins

Synopsis: A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace. (Source)

Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer plays for keeps. Armed with a script from Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, Kusama takes the crime drama by its throat. This is a deep dive into the darkest parts of the human soul. At its core is a piercing character study that doesn’t apologize for its main characters’ flaws, but instead puts them all on display. Nicole Kidman leads the film with absolute authority. She’s at the top of her game, giving herself over in a way she never has, and imbuing this new neo-noir with real grit. Infinitely twisty and and with an and ending you’ll never see coming, this is undeniably a rough stretch of road. Nevertheless, Kusama explores her archetypes as much as the existential quandaries that confine them. Her latest is an inescapable piece of hard-boiled complexity that gets deep under our skin. 

Like most detective films, it all starts with a dead body. It’s face down on the ground but has a distinctive tattoo, some marked money, and next to it, is a ghost gun. Things kick into gear when Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) literally stumbles onto the scene. She looks as if she could’ve just walked out of hell, disheveled and with each step and breath labored as she squints at the sun. Her colleagues look at her as if she’s cancer, but Bell takes one good look at the body and her mind races. What no one knows aside from Bell, is that this body is a significant relic from her past. It’s a past that broke her, and one that she’s never recovered from. Now, all bets are off, as she struggles to solve a mystery and race toward closure no matter what the cost.

With Bell’s tortured psyche as our through line, the plot bounces between past and present. It ends up forming a fractured narrative that constantly surprises. Needless to say, it’s exponentially dense and layered, honing in on the idea of consequence, and how each of our choices can gradually push us toward a point of no return. Tethered to such an intimate motivation, the film’s mysteries transform alongside Bell, subverting our expectations as her story spirals deeper into personal hell. It’s fascinating to see a character like Bell in this genre, utterly broken but fierce. And though she’s arguably given empathy, Kusama never demystifies her completely. We’re forced to live with Bell’s decisions in the same way those around her have to. Headier than usual, the film leaves a few mysteries left to the unknown while still providing cathartic reckoning amidst a fragile, defeated existence. 

Destroyer Nicole Kidman

Making the madness connect, is impeccable casting. This is 200% Nicole Kidman’s showcase, and she earns one of the best performances of her career. Helped by strong script, Kidman fleshes Bell out in a way that makes us feel the agony of her struggles and their spiraling consequences. Hidden beneath the rage, regret and guilt, however, is a ferocity that’s blinding. Kidman manifests all of these inner-emotions in the most genuine way. Kusama and photographer Julie Kirkwood are smart to devote prolonged moments of Kidman’s stare. With just a stray look from those eyes, she burns up the screen. The rest of the cast ain’t no slouch either. At the risk of saying too much, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Scoot McNairy and Jade Pettyjohn hold their own in smaller but pivotal roles. Together, they all create a patchwork of lost souls hurtling toward a bleak oblivion. 

Deceitfully simple on surface, Destroyer is multi-faceted thriller that changes depending on which angle we look at it. Just like its characters, the film wears many faces. And yet, Kusama keeps a tight focus on everything, leading up to a conclusion that feels right, but also completely unpredictable. At the center of it all, is a vulnerable heroine who we can’t get enough of. We’re repelled by her as much as we’re attracted to her, and yet, the film rightfully never judges her. With its mixture of humane observation and pulse-pounding thrills, Kusama has pulled off a new classic. It’s implications resonate long and hard, and Kidman’s performance is an absolute can’t-miss. 

SG