By Cameron Lee ‘20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In some ways, Destroyer could serve as a double feature bill alongside this year’s brilliant You Were Never Really Here. They both feature protagonists dealing with extreme PTSD, trauma, and use brutal methods to achieve their intended goals. But that’s where the similarities end – though it should be noted that both of these films were directed by women. They each take a different approach in tackling damaged characters who have to deal with violence; Lynne Ramsay subverts every expectation of the crime thriller genre in You Were Never Really Here and creates something entirely new.
Destroyer, on the other hand, for the most part, takes the straight and narrow route to tell its story. However with an incredible performance by Nicole Kidman that ranks among one of her greatest performances and a storyline that’s easy to invest in Destroyer avoids the pitfalls of becoming just another lame duck Michael Mann wanna-be crime film and instead turns out to be a crime thriller with depth and emotion.
LAPD Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) goes on the hunt for the remaining members of a bank robbery gang that she was undercover in years prior that ended in tragedy. With nothing left to lose, Bell uses any means necessary to put an end to a case that has caused her years of suffering and pain. The film goes back and forth from the present to the past, when Bell and her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were undercover in the gang.
Kidman very much transforms into Bell – not because of the excellent makeup work, but because she never feels like she’s playing a role. It is easy to buy that Bell is a real person here and not just another role that Kidman has added to her vast filmography. It’s a very different and much more brutal, much darker role for Kidman to take on, but she does it so effortlessly that by the end the only person that was on the screen was Bell, not Kidman.
The rest of the cast don’t get quite as much screen time as Kidman for obvious reasons, but each member of the cast still gets to make an impression. Toby Kebbell, who unfortunately is still getting type-casted in villain roles with not enough screen time, still manages to turn in a solid performance as the unstable leader of the gang. Bradley Whitford has only one long scene with Kidman, but he gives a great performance as a douchebag money launder that Bell goes to question. Tatiana Maslany as per usual is unrecognizable, as Petra, a member of the gang; It’s a shame she doesn’t get more to do here as her character had great potential to steal some of the thunder from Kidman.
While it’s easy to get invested into the case Bell is trying to solve, the real meat of the film is Bell herself. The film is a character study; the case Bell reopened is less about what actually happened but how it drove Bell to an extremely dark place and how she can’t get out of said place. She lost custody of her daughter and struggles to reconnect with her. There’s one scene in particular towards the end of the film where she tries to make amends with her teenage daughter that’s heartbreaking to watch. The score underlines the intensity and sadness that Bell feels; in parts, it sounds similar to the score to Sicario and in more personal moments like a sad lullaby.
Overall, Destroyer doesn’t try to break new ground with its fascinating lead character; it’s a showcase piece for Kidman and she delivers on all fronts. The plot sometimes spins its wheels to pad out the film with plot when it doesn’t need it.
But, as a character study, Destroyer works quite well. It may not deliver the thrills people have become accustomed to from recent crime thrillers (there’s not a lot of action besides a bank shootout) but it tells a story that’s emotionally engaging from a character and acting perspective. And sometimes those two things can save a rather predictable plot.
Overall Grade: B
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