Written by: Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford
The plans we make in life can have all of the best intentions, but we cannot always account for every variable that could interfere with it. Destroyer shows how with even the most hopeful plans, life never provides the perfect circumstances, which can lead to devastating results. As gritty and dark as a modern noir dares to get, this film promises to make you uncomfortable and succeeds in doing so.
Arriving at a homicide investigation, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) recognizes John Doe as someone connected to a gang she went undercover with more than a decade ago. With her life now in shambles with no remaining healthy relationships, she reaches into her past to discover who may be responsible.
The narrative structure of Destroyer sets up a woman we follow who cannot be trusted. She has been through the wringer in multiple ways and something mysterious remains about her aura. Erin does not get along with anyone she works with and has a fractured relationship with her own kin. She’s a tough person to crack and the opportunity we have to learn more about her comes in the flashbacks. These two timelines work well together for us to piece together Erin and what connections she has to this gang. The more we learn, the more complex and ultimately saddening we discover her life to be.
Working as a neo-noir crime thriller, the film utilizes its genre to tell a truly dark story. Just as Erin cannot be trusted, neither can anyone else as each person works solely for their self-interest and anyone in the way can be disposed of at a moment’s notice. We see this in the interactions Erin has with past members of the gang, where almost all of them have lived worse lives because of it. Every person Erin interacts with would be no one you would want to exchange anything more than pleasantries if anything. This quest solely becomes about getting the information she needs and Erin will evidently do whatever it takes.
The mystery unfolds in trying to decipher exactly what Erin hopes to achieve by questioning all of these people. As both the present and flashback sequences depict, she has a clear plan and will deliver it in a ruthless manner. This particular bleakness matches the tone set by director Karyn Kusama. A tremendous filmmaker not often given the proper tools to display her talent, and she works wonders in establishing the dark and gritty Los Angeles Erin must work through. Kusama does not care to make things look glamorous or attractive, because nothing about this story warrants that type of appeal. Every character just looks exhausted from their life situation and none more than Erin.
Creating the main appeal for this film has always been Nicole Kidman as the protagonist. Crafting the look given to her in the present timeline certainly calls attention to itself seeing as it distorts Kidman’s face heavily. We see what she looks like in the flashbacks, which shows the actor we know, but seeing the contrast displays she has gone through some tough times. Regardless of the looks, Kidman delivers a strong performance in a role I do not see her taking on often. Within her storied career, she has taken on emotionally vulnerable characters, but Erin remains closed off to the audience with a strong layer of cynicism. It makes her hard to connect to, which becomes the entire point of following this story. She carries the momentum of the story and continues in the efforts of making it engaging throughout. You cannot take your eyes off of her, because her decisions seem to be random until we fully realize her ultimate plan.
Certainly not the best tourism commercial for Los Angeles, Destroyer tells a story of regret, trauma, and pain through a heavily troubled character. The past and present converge to paint the portrait of this woman we see before us. Broken and angry, Erin presents herself as someone not caring for what others think about her and simply wants to complete one last thing in this godforsaken world. An impressively crafted feature showing intense sequences as a puzzle put together by a fierce filmmaker in Karyn Kusama.