Stars: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Jade Pettyjohn, Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford, Beau Knapp
Writers: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Director: Karyn Kusama
Distributor: Annapurna Pictures
Release Date: December 25, 2018
DESTROYER, written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi and directed by Karyn Kusama, keeps us guessing almost until the very end. What exactly has LAPD Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) so desperate to track down the elusive criminal Silas (Toby Kebbell) after all these years? And what has turned Bell into such an emotionally blasted, wretched alcoholic from the energetic young woman we see in flashbacks?
The answer is more complicated than we might at first suppose. Hay and Manfredi play with our sense of time, not only jumping back and forth between present and past, but also within both time zones. As a result, we’re always putting things together. It’s clever, it’s intriguing, and it fits this sun-drenched Southern California noir perfectly. Kusama takes full advantage of every location, finding something visually striking in each well-chosen venue. Locals will appreciate the accuracy (in this sense, DESTROYER is up there with BOSCH) and non-locals will get a new feel for the city.
DESTROYER also has a first-rate supporting cast, including the excellent Toby Kebbell (an actor often seen in motion-capture work) and the can-do-anything Tatiana Maslany of ORPHAN BLACK. Sebastian Stan, Scoot McNairy and Bradley Whitford are also highly effective.
Kusama has said in at least one interview that no one would be the least surprised to see a man do all the things that Bell does. Why shouldn’t a woman be allowed to do them? Kusama is entirely right. There’s not a reason in the world that Bell shouldn’t be female. However, Kidman just isn’t the person for the job. This isn’t because of gender. There are male actors who would be wrong for this character as well. This is no slight on Kidman’s overall talent, or even her ability to play regretful, conflicted people. Bell in DESTROYER, though, calls for someone who has a certain kind of innate toughness. It never comes through. Despite the makeup designed to make Bell look as though life has put her through the wringer, she seems less furiously damaged than simply shut down. We understand more and more as the story unfolds why she’s on the path she’s chosen, but we don’t see it in what she’s doing.
Much is also made in the dialogue about Bell’s alcoholism. We see such sparse evidence of this that we’re left wondering if she really is meant to have a substance issue, or if she’s so depressed that this is an assumption people make about her.
We also see Bell trying belatedly to parent her sixteen-year-old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who is involved with an older man (Beau Knapp). From Shelby’s reactions and Bell’s guilt, we can tell that Bell has been an absent parent so far. Kidman does her best work in these sequences, giving the character an anxious uncertainty in facing someone she actually cares about in the present.
DESTROYER is worth seeing for its smart writing and its absorbing atmosphere. It just could have been better with a central performer who didn’t have to try so hard to convince us she’s, well, hard.
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Article: Movie Review: DESTROYER