REVIEW: Destroyer (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Annapurna Pictures

The following is a review of Destroyer — Directed by Karyn Kusama.

In the first scenes of Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, a seemingly inebriated LAPD detective, Erin Bell (played by Nicole Kidman), walks onto the scene of a crime to investigate what colleagues of her’s think of what happened to a murder victim with three dots in the back of his neck. What follows is a labyrinthine narrative complete with twists and shoot-outs as we learn what events made Bell, a former undercover officer, into a disheveled and visibly weathered revenge-seeking rogue detective.

When I started to hear about this film, the talk all revolved around how Nicole Kidman had been transformed by exceptional make-up and costume design. And that’s true. The first thing you’ll think when you see her in Destroyer is that this cannot be Nicole Kidman. She barely walks straight in her first scene, she has a distinctive raspy voice, messy dark hair, and her face is disturbingly weathered. This is a person who has been chewed up and spat out by life.

In that first scene, it basically looks like someone wrecked by life has walked onto the set of an indistinctive L.A.-based weekly police television drama. There are actors saying their lines as they would in your run-of-the-mill cop show, but Kidman is in a completely different project and only a handful of actors, including Sebastian Stan, Bradley Whitford, and James Jordan, ever appear to be in the same film as her, which is meant to say that Kidman is so in-the-zone that most people around her seem unnatural thanks, in part, to a less-than-stellar script.

Kidman’s transformation is exceptional, and she plays the character really well. All the accolades that it may earn her are understandable, but the transformation is also so noticeably impressive that it overwhelms many scenes on your first viewing and it becomes a sometimes distracting feature of the film. She is supported by a loud performance by Bradley Whitford, an appropriately down-and-dirty performance by underrated character actor James Jordan, and a solid performance by the truly magnetic Sebastian Stan whose scenes with Kidman might’ve been my favorite scenes in the film had it not been for some gripping shootout-scenes.

Karyn Kusama is a director that I am rooting for. I don’t think her horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body gets as much credit as it deserves, and her previous feature film, The Invitation, is a criminally underseen thriller that took me by surprise when it came out. Which is why it pains me to say that Kusama’s interesting crime drama with a fascinating transformation and a strong performance at the center of it is undone by an overwrought and unfocused script.

Though certainly interesting, the subplot about Bell’s relationship with her daughter takes away from what works really well here, which are the flashbacks to Bell’s time as an undercover officer with Sebastian Stan’s character, as well as the gripping revenge-tale which takes a backseat to the familial subplot for too long.

The structural design of Destroyer gets in the way of the film, and the ultimate twist is slightly unsatisfying, in part, due to a glacial pace. This is a two-hour long film that doesn’t just feel like True Detective, you also feel the length of a mini-series here, which is unacceptable when the payoff doesn’t quite satisfy.

I never knew I wanted to see Nicole Kidman as a weathered revenge-seeking LAPD detective, but, to their credit, Kusama and Kidman make it seem like a perfect fit. With a tighter script Destroyer could’ve been a true cult-favorite, but the overwrought script that Kusama works with here overwhelms the film. You should see this film so that you can experience the impressive Kidman transformation in motion, but the film doesn’t live up to the promise of the exciting but, admittedly, generic crime drama premise.

6 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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