Complex Justice: Our Review of ‘Destroyer’

Complex Justice: Our Review of ‘Destroyer’

The streets can take their toll…

Destroyer (which opens exclusively here in Toronto this coming Friday) dives into the drama of the streets and while it occasionally struggles balancing the human pathos and pure action pulp of it all, it rises above thanks to a gritty performance from Nicole Kidman as a cop looking to make peace with it all and what it’s ultimately cost her.

We’re in the moral and existential odyssey of LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) who, as a young cop, was placed undercover with a gang in the California desert with tragic results. When the leader of that gang re-emerges many years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members and into her own history with them to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past.

Having seen far too many movies throughout my lifetime, I just can’t lie.  Destroyer hits beats that we’ve seen more than once throughout the history of cinema but still manages to be an incredibly solid effort thanks to some gritty self assured direction from Karyn Kusama and leading performance from Nicole Kidman that manages to be both vulnerable and unhinged at the exact same time.

While director Karyn Kusama has had an interesting; all be it uneven career as a director, this time out we get an unexpected level of chaotic nuance to the story that is unfolding in front of our eyes.  She borrows some visual beats from the likes of Michael Mann which isn’t entirely unexpected but is also very careful to allow for characters to breathe and exist on the screen.  There’s genuine care being taken in allowing balance and making a grandiose crime drama that still has those intense and occasionally brutal beats, making those human moments of weakness and frailty play all the better.

The script from the team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi keeps it right on the edge of scary which is what makes it effective.

We’re never supposed to romanticize or get engaged with the worlds that Kidman’s Erin Bell is navigating through, it’s an existence of pure shit, one that you just hope you can come out on the other side of because while it’s often mechanical and occasionally over engineered which makes for a messy experience, it is never for a single second something that isn’t terribly compelling and emotionally engaging.

It all makes for an interesting character study because she’s not a hero whose particularly looking for any kind of personal redemption in order to correct past wrongs, however she also knows that she can’t leave this situation as it’s been left either and has to find away to make it at the very least…right, or whatever her version of that is.

There’s certainly an undeniable eclectic nature to this ensemble cast which features the likes of Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbel, (Canada’s own Tatiana Maslany), Scoot McNairy & Bradley Whitford to name a few but this film simply begins and ends in the orbit of Nicole Kidman.  It’s no wonder that she was nominated for a Golden Globe (and maybe even an Oscar) as this is one of those roles that you can tell actors simply want to tear into with a gritty gusto and aplomb that doesn’t often get seen on the big screen. 

Her Erin Bell has more layers then an onion and getting to see her peel them all back is something to watch.  Playing bad-ass AND broken at the same time isn’t exactly an easy thing to do but Kidman tears into the material and is more than believable when she is trying to reconnect with her daughter in once scene, and pistol whipping someone in the very next scene.  She makes it a nuanced and complex affair as she not only inhabits the skin of this character but makes us watch as she willing takes the character in such a rawhide state of mind that we forget who is on the screen in the first place.

Ultimately, while Destroyer doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a damn good crime drama and character study of the dysfunction that can taking place while navigating the mean streets of a major city.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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