Mere minutes into this film, I was ready to hand Nicole Kidman her Oscar. We meet detective Erin Bell, LAPD, as a broken down woman limping up to a murder scene looking no better than the corpse. The reek of booze preceding her, her colleagues roll their eyes behind her back and do all they can to get rid of her so she doesn’t impede the investigation. There is no love or respect for her on the force, except maybe from her partner, who she is expertly avoiding.
But flash back to when she was a young FBI agent. She and partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were placed undercover with a gang that dealt in a little bit of everything: drugs, theft, whatever. Like any good undercover agent, they melted seamlessly into the gang, became their friends, even got together as a couple, which more or less bled into their real lives. But when the gang plans a bank heist, the operation goes south.
Cut back to present day: Bell is washed up, an alcoholic, estranged from her family. She looks like hell, smells like she’s pickled, practically lives in her car since that’s where she most often passes out. But when that murder scene turns out to be related to her old gang, she realizes its leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell) has resurfaced and she’ll have to dive back down the rabbit hole in order to make things right.
You might be picking up on Nicole Kidman’s incredible performance. It’s not just that she’s nearly unrecognizable – her gait, her posture, the shadow behind her eyes – her performance is so holistic and encompassing it’s a shock to our system. Contrasted with the “before” years, before she knows how life can hurt you, she looks wholesome and free, like the world exists to bloom with possibility.
Director Karyn Kusama has a very dark outlook on the world, and she’s not afraid to bring her protagonist down the narrowest, most bleak passageways to get where she’s going. Erin Bell is tortured and unlikeable, which is unusual for a female character, and it’s certainly not what we’ve come to expect from Kidman. I’m glad that Kusama doesn’t try to soften her, but I also thought that Kidman’s haggard look was a little extreme, Bell’s complete collapse perhaps not quite explained by the trauma in her past. Everything hints toward something far more sinister, and when the pieces of the puzzle come together, it’s bad, but it’s not as bad as you expect. In fact, it’s a little on the expected side. Destroyer has a great female protagonist that pushes the envelope, and Kidman’s performance is nothing short of incredible, but this movie won’t be remembered for anything more than that.