A new crime drama from Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Jennifer’s Body, Girlfight) would lead one to believe that it is more profound than it is.
Starring a haggard Nicole Kidman, stripped of the glamour often seen in her roles (from prosthetics/makeup used for films like Deadpool 2), even in the Civil War-set adaptation of Cold Mountain, Destroyer often segues from the present day to the time when her Southern California law enforcer, Erin Bell, first confronted brutality during a covert undertaking involving her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan of Captain America Civil War) in the California desert.
Looking at Erin right off the bat is a jarring experience, and the way the filmmaking and narrative puts the despairing woman on a track to settle an old score is a noteworthy touch in gender reversal. A recent homicide with tattoos and the back of the neck signal the possible resurgence of Silas (Toby Kebbell of Kong: Skull Island and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) after seventeen years on the lam.
So, witnessing how Erin became bitter and less likable while the effect of her decay (besides the comely appearance) consists of avenues that appear to tell a lot, but not really convey very much. It surely is a staunch effort from Kidman to underscore the bleakness of Erin’s existence with character physicality not as naturally powerful as what was done in and with Charlize Theron’s transformation into a serial killer in Monster. This type of degradation from an akin scenario also was more deftly rendered in an early 1990s drama, Rush, which featured Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The lack of subtlety, in essence, just doesn’t allow for the plotting with spare dialogue to resonate the way Kusama intends in a modern noir that may seem like a portentous, less potboiler version of Michael Mann’s potent Heat. Dealing with a daughter’s boyfriend and a bedridden informant lets Kidman peel away at a desperate, determined woman.
Along the way before an undeserving conclusion what should have had more true grit still has noteworthy backup from Tatiana Maslany and Bradley Whitford (Get Out) with grime and virility etched respectively from their Petra and DiFranco. Regardless, what could have really simmered to the surface in Destroyer just evaporates as it will be mainly remembered for Kidman’s realistic, if ghastly countenance. But, less (sticking out) was more for her in The Hours as novelist Virginia Woolf damaged by fear where emotions reverberated more in 1923 Richmond, England than in today’s sun-splashed L.A.