In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman gives a gritty performance of a troubled cop

by James Robins / 14 March, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Destroyer movie review

As a troubled cop in an LA crime thriller Destroyer, Nicole Kidman is clearly committed, if a little too showy.

Destroyer is a rough-edged detective drama that begins in a dark place and goes hunting for depravity. The rogue cop at its core is Erin Bell, played by Nicole Kidman. To say that the Australian actor “stars” in the film would be stretching it – she’s more like a black hole.

Kidman’s face has been rendered skull-like by dense make-up: mottled and contorted, shaded around the eyes. The weathering is so stark that rather than adding to Kidman’s clearly committed performance, it stands out ostentatiously. We know that Bell is beaten down from her first moments on screen, almost crawling from her car and shuffling to a crime scene as if she’s been bent into a small box for a week. The defeated posture was all we needed to see.

That crime scene – dead body, cash stained with purple dye – triggers a memory from Bell’s earlier life, before she was so tainted: an undercover job with a motley gang led by a viperish psychopath with the appropriately menacing name of Silas (Toby Kebbell). She suspects Silas has returned, so embarks on her own vengeance before he can get his.

Director Karyn Kusama knows the contours of the genre, having worked in horror before (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation), and Destroyer channels other Los Angeles-set noirs – The Big Sleep, Chinatown, LA Confidential, Heat, Drive. It’s a seething city of baked concrete, close to the desert wastes, with poverty and wealth, corruption and criminality in close proximity.

The movement of the plot is Chandleresque, too, labyrinthine and doubling over itself, all headed for a fairly satisfying twist. Yet what gives the film its impetus, and holds our attention the most, is the brutality visited upon Bell both physically and psychologically. This is a character study rather than a pure procedural, a test of how fiercely a scorned person will stalk their prey and what punishment they will accept to get them.

Destroyer is a tough watch. But that’s the point. Kusama’s film is deliberately confrontational. If only we were allowed to wallow in Kidman’s performance instead of being distracted by her eyeshadow. 



Video: Annapurna Pictures

This article was first published in the March 16, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Dancing with the Stars is a parable for democracy in the age of Trump
106060 2019-05-20 00:00:00Z Television

Dancing with the Stars is a parable for democracy…

by Diana Wichtel

The people have spoken on the hit TV dance-off and we deserve everything we get.

Read more
How this woman was prevented from going completely blind
Are you taking too many pills?
106032 2019-05-20 00:00:00Z Health

Are you taking too many pills?

by Donna Chisholm

By the time we reach our late 60s, a quarter of us will be taking a smorgasbord of medicines that we hope will extend our lives.

Read more
How Sam Pillsbury went from filmmaker to vintner
106015 2019-05-19 00:00:00Z Profiles

How Sam Pillsbury went from filmmaker to vintner

by Sharon Stephenson

Filmmaker Sam Pillsbury was involved in some of New Zealand’s most iconic films before more lucrative directing opportunities lured him to LA.

Read more
NZ innovators are leading a wool revolution – is it time to get behind them?
105928 2019-05-19 00:00:00Z Business

NZ innovators are leading a wool revolution – is i…

by Bill Ralston

Wool is natural, renewable and biodegradable so it should be a great time for the New Zealand economy. Why, then, are farmers, designers and ...

Read more
Activists are beating wool producers to the punch in selling a story about fibre
105991 2019-05-19 00:00:00Z Business

Activists are beating wool producers to the punch…

by Joanne Black

Most of us would probably not say, “I’d rather go naked than wear wool”, but that was exactly the message that 18 months ago appeared on US billboards

Read more
Belief in conspiracy theories is far more common than you think
105587 2019-05-19 00:00:00Z Psychology

Belief in conspiracy theories is far more common t…

by Marc Wilson

Conspiracy belief is more common among people who are less trusting and experience more anomie – they worry that the world is losing it and...

Read more
Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond on the need for nationhood
105738 2019-05-18 00:00:00Z History

Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond on the need fo…

by Andrew Anthony

Jared Diamond’s new book about empowering national identity to respond to crises is bound to tip off yet another controversy, but...

Read more