Lost in the shuffle of award season comes a police procedural so hard-boiled it could break your teeth. LAPD Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is not one for small talk; her steely nature and gaunt face (along with some Rami Malek calibre prosthetic dentistry) casts a striking central figure that occupies the lens like an oncoming freight train.
Neo-noir elements are slathered liberally over this cop thriller; it’s a nihilistic slow-burn that takes a while to get going, but like all good cop dramas, once hooked you’re desperate to see how it ends.
Prowling the sun-drenched suburbs of present-day L.A. in search for Silas (Toby Kebbell)—a bank robber who has recently re-emerged after wronging her years earlier—Bell’s search leads her down a rabbit warren of wrong turns and dead ends. What begins as standard police procedure becomes a primal cry of motherhood as the story investigates how the crime at hand has stained her relationship with her daughter. The chilly utilitarian connections in Destroyer certainly make for a stark moral universe. However, welcome relief comes in the form of Bell’s undercover partner (Sebastian Stan) who manages to break up, albeit too briefly the film’s dusty scapes and drained palette with the soft glow of their relationship.
From her first outing with the critically acclaimed Girlfight, Karyn Kusama has honed her skills, becoming a noteworthy Director of women-centric tales. Here, her decision to hang the whole film on Kidman’s performance has paid off. While Kidman may not be the first name you’d think of to play a vengeful haprd-ass, her immense scope has repaid Kusama’s gamble, delivering the film its driving force.
And driving it is, with a kinetically charged second half that makes good of its slow beginnings and offers a final twist that packs a decent wallop. But despite this, and Kidman’s compelling performance, Destroyer will most likely find itself lost in the white noise of awards season and seems destined for the scrapheap of obscurity. Shame, it deserves better.