This is the most serious role for Nicole Kidman since the movie where she wore the big nose (“The Hours” 2002). Here, the elegant Kidman is almost unrecognizable in physical appearance, body language and voice cadence. With gaunt face, dull hollow eyes and dirty brown hair, she bears a closer resemblance to singer Mick Jagger after a bash.
The setting is dark, gloomy and in the seediest parts of L.A. with everything and everyone that goes along with such film noir. As Kidman so fully immerses herself into the role of Detective Erin Bell, one might ask why she would take this dreadful part? Others may say this is exactly why she did it, to show off her superb acting chops.
Love it or hate it, the plot follows Detective Bell’s moral and existential odyssey. Told through a series of flashbacks, we learn this hardened cop’s back story through dual plotlines that eventually intersect. Although she appears ridden hard and put away wet, it’s interesting to watch how that came to be.
As a young, radiant Deputy Sheriff, we witness Bell’s undercover assignment with gang members in the California desert that ends tragically. Many years later, a murder is discovered. She works her way back through the “old gang” and into her own history to finally reckon with the demons destroying her life. This is an above average crime-thriller, but a fascinating character study of a gritty, complex and pathetic human being.
Director Karyn Kusama (“Aon Flux”) goes to great lengths to feature a strong woman without making her a superhero of any kind. Bell is complex, miserable and filled with pain. We ache for her, even when we’re not really sure why. Garbed in a black leather jacket, she pushes around the bad guys, good guys and even her teenage daughter.
Compulsive addictive behavior is not uncommon for a ruthless, hard-boiled detective, but rarely, if ever, is the part played by a woman. Too often we never learn what makes them play so down and dirty, but here the agony is illustrated. Bell is relentless in solving the crime, helpless in aiding her daughter and hopeless in fixing herself.
Bradley Whitford co-stars as the white-collar kingpin while Sebastian Stan offers ample chemistry and heartbreak with Kidman. Rarely does life turn out the way we plan, but Bell’s internal wounds are deep. Kidman reportedly had the flu during filming. She not only powered through but used the illness to add to the misery of the character.
The script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfred (“Clash of the Titans”) is somewhat convoluted but never confusing. The number of characters and flashbacks should muddy the story, but both plots are riveting and keep the audience’s interest. Toby Kebbell and Scoot McNairy round out the supporting cast, but this is unmistakably a one-woman show.
Kidman is convincing as both the young, purposeful undercover cop and as the older broken detective. She sometimes overacts and could have been a little more likable, and still maintained the integrity of her tortured soul. This is not exactly a feel-good movie, but no matter how broken, this woman was powerful enough to make a difference and redeem herself in her own way. Mostly we cared about her.
“Destroyer” is 121 minutes and rated R for language, violence, sexual content and drug use. This film is dark, grim and somewhat depressing, it could be very difficult to watch. However, that is the nature of the film noir genre, only with a gender-flip. Kidman goes against type and carries this gritty role as well as any actor before her.
With so many twisted characters, it’s easier to appreciate this movie than to like it. Pro football player Too Tall Jones once tried boxing and said, “I never met so many crummy people in my life.” Yet, people watch. Watching Detective Bell in action, we were reminded of the Janis Joplin song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
Ron’s Rating: B
Leigh’s Rating: D