DESTROYER afforded Nicole Kidman another opportunity to submerge herself in a character whose look and manner are far removed from her own: her bone-deep performance is the one reason this gritty and glum 2018 meditation on guilt is worth a look: for fans of the chameleon actress and those who can’t get enough of corrupted cop concoctions. Others, bummed enough by real headlines to not wish to see them in a dark theater with seven other people, may steer clear. Her fan base stayed home, so did policenicks; the sordid sally among the scuzzy languished at 192nd place among the year’s offerings, the cuffed worldwide gross of $5,581,000 a harsh sentence against the more than $9,000,000 it took to produce. *
In naval terminology, a destroyer is a quick, long-endurance warship. In the case of L.A. detective ‘Erin Bell’ (Kidman), her once-sleek armament and agility as a warrior cruising for the law has been battered by years of alcohol abuse and soul torment over a botched undercover assignment in her past. Innocent civilians and her partner-lover suffered, her relationship with her daughter has withered, other cops scoff at her disgrace. A chance at redemption comes, but it involves retribution that may exact a high cost.
We’ve been pummeled by detectives-gone-to-seed stories for decades, usually involving drugs. Sometimes exciting, often merely punishing, veritable departments worth (Rampart, Training Day, Internal Affairs, Cop Land, Bad Lieutenant, and on and on, with the lesser knockoffs numerous enough to fill Folsom); the chief distinction of this sordid sally among the scuzzy is that the self-tarnished protagonist is a tottering wreck of woman instead of a ruined hulk of a man.
Kidman, 51, aided greatly by makeup that turns her into a lizard-skinned cadaverous wraith, is in stellar form, even if often the makeup is as distracting as it is convincing, and the story pushes credibility too far. Once more there’s no-one to care about in this collection of burnouts and freaks, leaving the piece simply an impressive acting exercise rather than effecting drama with genuine depth.
Directed by Karyn Kusama, scripted by her husband Phil Hay and writing partner Matt Mandfredi. 123 drawn-out minutes with people you wouldn’t want to meet, played by Sebastian Stan, Bradley Whitford (superbly jerkish as a rotten lawyer), Scoot McNairy, Jade Pettyjohn, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Huss, Beau Knapp and Zach Villa.
* Other, better movies that few people bothered to see in 2018 include Stan & Ollie, Cold War, Roma (the majestic Mexican epic was the year’s best), The Sisters Brothers, Everybody Knows, Arctic, The Front Runner.
Punchy titles are a big deal, granted, but 2018 really overdid it on the one-word-says-all trope; no less than 107 films went out with a one-word handle. And that doesn’t include those prefaced by “The”!