DE­STROYER

Empire (Australasia) - - On.Screen - DAN JOLIN

OUT 21 MARCH / 121 MINS / RATED MA15+

DIREC­TOR Karyn Kusama

CAST Ni­cole Kid­man, Toby Kebbell, Ta­tiana Maslany, Se­bas­tian Stan, Scoot Mc­nairy

PLOT Seven­teen years af­ter be­ing part of an un­der­cover op­er­a­tion that went wrong, po­lice de­tec­tive Erin Bell (Ni­cole Kid­man) hears that Si­las (Toby Kebbell), the leader of the gang she in­fil­trated, is back in town. Bell is in­tent on set­tling old scores, what­ever the cost.

WE HAVE, WITH­OUT a doubt, never seen Ni­cole Kid­man like this be­fore. But there’s far more to her per­for­mance in De­stroyer than the re­mark­able, rav­aging make-up job that has al­ready re­ceived so much at­ten­tion, and de­serves to draw com­par­isons with Char­l­ize Theron’s trans­for­ma­tion for Mon­ster in 2003. The role of LA de­tec­tive Erin Bell is the kind you’d ex­pect some­one like Har­vey Kei­tel or Woody Har­rel­son to play: a deeply flawed, cor­rupt cop who bar­rels through the story with a sense of self-jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that’s only matched by their sheer moral turpi­tude. Whether she’s em­ploy­ing se­ri­ously du­bi­ous in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques or go­ing in all guns blaz­ing — and never mind the col­lat­eral dam­age — Bell is surely up there with the bad­dest of lieu­tenants.

You might oc­ca­sion­ally stop and think, “Hang on, did I re­ally just see Ni­cole Kid­man kick in a door and fire an as­sault ri­fle?” But, this be­ing an ever-ver­sa­tile, Os­car-win­ning ac­tor, you’ll soon be lost in the ever-thick­en­ing shad­ows of her per­for­mance.

It is by no means an easy watch. De­stroyer, as the ti­tle sug­gests, is a grim, down­beat thriller which rarely leavens its dra­matic trun­cheon-blows with lighter in­ter­ludes. Un­like Three Bill­boards Out­side Ebbing, Mis­souri, which fea­tures a sim­i­larly as­ton­ish­ing, sim­i­larly bru­tal per­for­mance from Frances Mcdor­mand, there’s no wit or snap to the di­a­logue, no black hu­mour to revel in. Bell isn’t blessed with one-lin­ers or acer­bic come­backs. She’s a trau­ma­tised, red-eyed in­som­niac, liv­ing out of her car and lurch­ing around the streets of LA like a badge-flash­ing zom­bie. You wince just watch­ing her walk.

In­ter­est­ingly, direc­tor Karyn Kusama (Girl­fight) and direc­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Julie Kirk­wood present the city in an al­most post-apoc­a­lyp­tic way: oddly des­o­late and tainted by de­cay. We know it’s just the Los An­ge­les we’re fa­mil­iar with from so many cop flicks, yet we ex­pe­ri­ence it as Bell does, in a hellish after­life cre­ated in the wake of an un­der­cover as­sign­ment that went dis­as­trously south 17 years ear­lier.

It is im­pres­sively toxic.

Some story beats don’t quite mea­sure up to Kusama’s heady world(un)build­ing, or Kid­man’s im­pec­ca­ble down­ward-spi­ralling. A sub­plot about Bell’s teenage daugh­ter be­comes a dis­trac­tion that ends with a rather ob­vi­ous pay-off, the flash­backs don’t sell the malev­o­lence of Toby Kebbell’s gang leader, and there is one cru­cial plot point that just doesn’t quite click in terms of the char­ac­ter mo­ti­va­tion be­hind it. But none of it will de­rail this psy­cho­log­i­cal sub­way ride through Bell’s per­sonal hell. It’s hard to imag­ine any­thing that could dis­tract you from mar­vel­ling at the way Kid­man has hol­lowed her­self out and de­liv­ered such a starkly pow­er­ful, darkly dis­turb­ing turn.

VER­DICT A grim, dour dive into one LA cop’s un­rav­el­ling, which cen­tres on a truly trans­for­ma­tive per­for­mance from Ni­cole Kid­man.

Ni­cole took her games of hide-and-seek very se­ri­ously.

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