Fantastic Fest 2018: Destroyer
Nicole Kidman is on a roll. It’s not necessarily a resurgence — she’s always been around, and always amazing — but her choices as of late have been major highlights in her already tremendous career. The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, and her Emmy-winning role in Big Little Lies; if she’s looking to make a point, she sure as hell is making one. Add to that her work in Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer. Forget the awards acclaim she’s sure to receive; here, Kidman’s pairing with Kusama has brought out of some of the best work the actor has ever done, which is no small statement.
Kidman plays Detective Erin Bell, ravaged by age and alcoholism. Already troubled by her inner demons, she is rattled even further by the possible return of a criminal she’s been after for years, Silas (Toby Kebbell). Dye pack-colored bills from a bank robbery gone south lead her on a trail to Silas’ gang and crooked lawyer, all leading, hopefully, to him. Through a series of flashbacks we see just how deeply personal this case is to Det. Bell — fifteen years ago she was undercover in Silas’ gang, along with fellow Det., Chris (Sebastian Stan). The memories for Bell sting in present day; not only does she want to catch Silas on her vendetta tear, she’s looking for some sort of absolution.
The pain surrounding her extends to her current family — her daughter and ex-husband. Her ex has moved on, and she tries to course correct her daughter’s life — a rebellious teenager with a much older, scummy boyfriend. Some of the most touching beats in this hard-nerved crime thriller come from the moments between Bell and her daughter. The relationship develops through the course of the movie leading to some well-earned emotional payoff by the end, which is much needed because of just how unsettling Destroyer turns out to be.
While Destroyer isn’t purely in the vein of Kusama’s previous genre work, like Jennifer’s Body or The Invitation, it still has the tone of a straight up horror movie. The ominous score by Theodore Shapiro and the cinematography by Julie Kirkwood each help drive this home. Later, Kusama ratchets up the tension with a stellarly crafted bank robbery sequence, further proof that the director can do pretty much everything, and can do it well.
Destroyer has more noir in its DNA than a standard crime thriller. Instead of a femme fatale haunting our lead, Kidman is driven by her memories, specifically of her former partner Chris. The flashbacks strengthen Bell’s journey; memories are ever-present, inescapable and damning. Because of what we see in the past, we know fully why our tortured hero is just that, tortured. Get passed the make-up on Kidman (which is questionable at first because it’s hard to age the ageless Nicole Kidman) and you see a fully developed character, from head to toe, physically and emotionally. It’s a perfect partnership between actor, director, and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.
Ultimately beautiful, Destroyer digs its claws into you. It channels that recognizable, ever-lasting feeling of regret into its gritty crime trappings. It’s a masterwork from a director at the top of her game, with a lead performance by an actor at the top of hers. It sits rightfully next to crime dramas such as Bad Lieutenant and Heat, while standing up all on its own. May we have another collaboration with Karyn Kusama and Nicole Kidman; this could easily turn into one of the best actor-director partnerships this side of De Niro and Scorsese.