Movie Review: Karyn Kusama’s ‘Destroyer’
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Director: Karyn Kusama
Screenwriter: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scoot McNairy
Distributor: Annapurna Pictures
Rated R | 123 Minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2019

Directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation), Destroyer is a gritty crime thriller starring Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies, The Hours) as a hardened detective on an obsessive and destructive mission to find a murderer and make peace with her tortured past.

Veteran LAPD detective Erin Bell’s (Kidman) grueling journey begins when she arrives on the scene of a John Doe murder and informs the responding officers that she knows the victim’s identity. The victim is a member of a criminal gang she once joined as a young undercover FBI agent; an assignment which ended disastrously and has taken a heavy toll on her life.

One by one, Bell tracks down the gang leader Silas’ (Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) former cohorts. During her all-consuming search, Bell has flashbacks to her days with Silas’ gang and her involvement in a bank heist gone tragically wrong. Most painful are her memories of Chris (Sebastian Stan of Avengers: Infinity War and I, Tonya), the FBI partner with whom she had a brief but meaningful romance.

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (The Invitation), Destroyer is a solid thriller with a strong ensemble, anchored by a riveting lead performance from Oscar-winner Kidman. Bell is coming to terms with how she’s lived her life and trying to find a way forward, and Kidman conveys this effortlessly with a dual performance: the younger version of herself in the ’90s, not yet ruined by life, and the present-day incarnation, a walking skeleton fueled by pain and haunted by guilt.

Aiding Kidman’s work is Academy Award-winning makeup artist Bill Corso (Foxcatcher, Deadpool, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who transforms the enthusiastic young woman with a rosy complexion we see in flashbacks to the beaten-up, leathery alcoholic of the present. Similar to Charlize Theron’s turn in Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster, Kidman disappears into the character, only her eyes are recognizable, piercing out from under layers of makeup and facial appliances.

An interesting dynamic to Kusama’s crime thriller is the dynamic between Bell and her rebellious 16-year-old, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn). Throw in her less-than-ideal relationship with ex-husband, Ethan (Scoot McNairy), and you’ve got a character stretched too thin, on the verge of self-destruction. She can’t change the past, and she can’t fix the present – bringing down Silas is her last shot at redemption.

Kidman really outshines the rest of a so-so movie that gets by on the strength of its cast and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood‘s visual style. The film feels like a desert-noir, a hodgepodge of Point Break, Memento, and Sicario. Unfortunately, Destroyer doesn’t have as much going on narratively as the aforementioned crime thrillers. In a lot of ways, it feels like a step-down for Kusama after her beautifully paced 2015 film The Invitation, which delivers the slow-building tension and intrigue this film sorely lacks.

Still, I’d recommend seeing Destroyer for Kidman’s best performance since 2013’s Stoker, as well as the supporting turns of Kebell, Stan, McNairy, Tatiana Maslany, and Bradley Whitford. Destroyer is now playing in select theaters. To see if your theater was selected, click here. Check out the trailer here below!


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