Destroyer ( 2018 )

★★1/2   |   Sept. 30, 2018

What happens when a single moment comes to define a lifetime, and the burden of a life poorly lived becomes too much to bear. Those are the questions posed by Karyn Kusama's new film "Destroyer", where an almost unrecognisable Nicole Kidman steps out of her comfort zone to lead the cast as Erin Bell, a middle aged detective whose past has consumed her.

We join Erin as she asserts herself into a murder investigation, against the wishes of the leading officers. We quickly get the feeling she's someone who is tolerated by virtue of past deeds, but who always tethers the brink between respect and disgrace. As the story unravels, we learn that, two decades previously, she was placed undercover to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers, and that the assignment ended with tragic consequences. This almost historic tragedy forms the basis of the movie, as the reemergence of the gang leader, Syllus (Kebbel), after years of hiding reopens not just the case, but also Erin's pain and regret. She must e-engage with the ghosts of her past in order to find him and lay her own demons to rest.

There is a good movie hidden somewhere in "Destroyer", but it never comes to the fore. We can see where it's trying to go, the story it wants to tell and the characters it wants to develop, but it never gets there. It is gritty and discomforting, but often to a fault, where certain scenes feel unwarranted and excessive. Kidman's turn, with her haggard appearance and gravelly voice, feels over the top, as if she desperately needs us to believe how empty and destructive Erin's life is. The motivation for her past actions, when revealed, also come across as both shallow and underdeveloped. The key villain of the piece, Syllus, exists only in flashbacks where he never displays enough presence to warrant the same importance in the audience's eyes as the character's. Outside of her all-consuming life as a detective, Erin's life since the incident is explored through her relationship with her daughter and ex-husband. There is a poignant and powerful restaurant scene late in the movie, where Erin and her daughter attempt to, if not resolve, then at least come to terms with their conflict, but at that stage we haven't really become invested enough to care.

Destroyer feels like a movie that just never managed to live up to the story it wanted to tell, and ultimately is a misfire from both its director and leading actress.

Directed by
Karyn Kusama
Starring
Nicole Kidman
Tatiana Maslany
Sebastian Stan
Bradley Whitford
Toby Kebbell
Runtime: 123 minutes
Destroyer (2018) on IMDb