For anyone who likes to read crime fiction or just watch cop shows on tv, you will know that the “destroyer” is undercover work. In Nicole Kidman’s break-out film “Destroyer”, the knowledge of “infiltration as deadly” will strike the same chord.
The film’s chronology is like a circular zig-saw puzzle. I found this lack of linear time interesting. As new information is shared Kidman’s character, LAPD detective Erin Bell, evolves while occasionally morally dissolving. The lies and the temptations are pretty standard, but we become invested in Bell’s story nonetheless. Much of this is due to Kidman’s superb acting and to Director Karyn Kusama’s focused imagery. One scene has us staring at a lone, bedraggled wolf; another at oily coffee in a styrofoam cup, too cold to dissolve the artificial powdered creamer floating like grit on the surface. More cold muck is on the horizon.
The screenplay was written by Kusama’s husband, Phil Hays and co-author Matt Manfredi. We have the prerequisite psychopaths, car chases, and bank robberies. Two decades are flashed back and forth. A prosthetic jaw line and shorter, colorless hair keep Kidman’s Erin in the correct time frame. As a flawed protagonist, she still makes us care. We see family relationships dissolve. We see work colleagues’ pity and lack of respect. This is a noir film with an operatic death scene.
The older Erin is angry, low on compassion, full of regrets, and dealing with the guilt of a partner/lover’s fatal heroism. She is told that “she walks like she is dragging an anchor”. We learn that she is.
Kidman’s supporting cast adds a thriller punch to her story. The psychopathic power behind the tattooed gang is Silas ( Toby Kebbell). Kebbell, a British film and stage actor, knows how to play a villain with nightmarish gleam. Sebastian Stan is the multi-dimensional Chris, Erin’s love interest and the hidden biological father of her wayward daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn). Beau Knapp is Shelby’s scruffy older boyfriend, who is easily bought off by Erin as she tries to protect her sixteen year-old. There are plenty of well-portrayed shady characters in Erin’s world. Gang-money launderer Defranco ( Bradley Whitford) being one memorable one. Tatiana Maslany as Petra,is another realistically humanized criminal.
One of the reasons that the film runs over two hours in length is the development of all these character arcs. Zach Villa plays Arturo, the one gang member that tries to live a life of redemption. James Jordan is a grand Toby, Erin’s gang cousin and owl-loving sleaze. Be prepared for violence and sexual favors shown on screen. One of Kidman’s coolest lines is directed to the dying Toby, who is out of prison on compassionate leave. She barks as she leaves his bed, “ Have a good month.”
The two men, who support Erin, besides Chris are her former husband, Ethan (Scoot McNairy) and Antonio ( Shamier Anderson), her current partner, make this not totally a female rehash of undercover tropes. Vendettas, innocent lives lost, dye packs, lies and greed, and being lost in the snow become memories we share with a fallible, but strong woman. Kidman’s part will remind you of Chicago PD’s Alvin Olinsky’s ( Elias Koteas) undercover-agent role. Somehow, loyalty and love are in the murky mix.