DESTROYER is the latest film from acclaimed director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) about a burnt-out police detective trying to make peace with her deadly past during a time when she was an undercover operative. The film stars Nicole Kidman (Aquaman), Toby Kebbell (Kong: Skull Island), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), and Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya).
It’s apparent from the moment we meet detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) that the years have not been kind to her. Ragged and beaten down, detective Bell arrives at the crime scene of an unidentified male in which she is able to identify. When she arrives back at the police station, she received an envelope with a $100 dollar bill that is stained purple from a dye pack. It’s shortly after this that we begin to see flashbacks pertaining to Bell’s life as an undercover officer of a California gang led by Silas (Toby Kebbell). Erin believes that Silas has returned and has pinpointed her as his next target, leaving Erin no choice but to revisit the remaining members of the gang before Silas finds her. Alone, yet determined, Erin embarks on a dangerous and personal journey that will have her facing demons from both the past and present.
Ever since seeing Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, I have been waiting with bated breath for her next feature film and let me tell you, the wait was worth it. This is a film that will stick with you for weeks after viewing it as you unfold each layer presented to get to the ugly truth that lay at the bottom. Kusama does a superb job of bringing Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s screenplay to life, while also showing a grittier side of Los Angeles that many don’t see. At times bleak and depressing, the heaviness of the film can weigh on you as well as the performances from our main cast. I don’t mean this as a slight towards the filmmaker or actors, as they were absolutely brilliant in their performances, but more as a highlight for casual viewers who may think they are about to step into a happy-ending Kidman feature.
Speaking of the acting, Nicole Kidman deserves all the praises she has been getting for her portrayal of Erin Bell. In a role that once again has her almost unrecognizable, she shines through all the grit and despair to give one of the best performances of her career. She is so unrecognizable that even my boyfriend thought it was a different actress (he thought it was Jennifer Jason Leigh). She exudes a no nonsense, tough-as-nails persona through the lens of someone who has seen some heavy shit. Kusama does a phenomenal job of showing the downward spiral that Erin Bell endures, both as an undercover cop, and as a someone who is a mother and was once a partner. Her dedication to the job is showcased through her strained relationship with her daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who is showing all the signs of being a rebellious and self-destructive teen. Their interaction definitely pulled on my heart strings as it reminded me, at times, of my relationship with my mother and how I treated her during my rebellious faze. Though we are to believe that Erin is indestructible, we learn that she did open her heart to someone, her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan), which at its core, was the catalyst to how she ended up where she is now.
DESTROYER is a film about redemption, but it’s a story that comes at a cost. As we fall deeper down the hole that Erin finds herself in, as the painful memories of her time with Silas and the gang come into focus, it’s hard not to see the impending wreckage ahead. Most might be quick to judge Erin and the decisions she makes, but truth be told, none of know what we would do if given the chance to start over. As the past clashes with the present it becomes hard to pinpoint when exactly everything went wrong. The question remains if there was ever a moment when Erin could have changed her fate or if it was all pre-determined for her. It’s a somber theme to be left with as the credits rolled.
DESTROYER may not perfect but it’s beautiful in its flaws and the performances are raw and believable, sucking the viewer in and never letting them go. An aspect I really appreciated was how the movie was filmed on location in Los Angeles, guided by the incredible cinematography of Julie Kirkwood, who was able to capture individual moments that she knew would be seared in your brain. It’s clear that Kusama and Kirkwood worked in tandem to execute a film that would leave a lasting impact on audience viewers. With DESTROYER, Karyn Kusama has once again shown the immense talent she possesses in her filmmaking style and I for one can’t wait to see what she has in store for fans next. DESTROYER will arrive in theaters December 25, 2018.