Karyn Kusama, dir
Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, script
Starring: Nicole Kidman (Erin Bell), Sebastian Stan (Chris), Toby Kebbel (Silas), Tatiana Maslany (Petra), Bradley Whitford (DiFrano), Jade Pettyjohn (Shelby), Scoot McNairy (Ethan)
The best thing to emerge from the MeToo movement apart from the taking down of some hideous sexual predators is the sudden growth of films directed by women, often with a hard-edged sensibility. Filmmaker Karyn Kusama is one of the first to benefit from this welcome trend with a neo-noir thriller, which would likely have been made for television or not at all a mere two years ago. Now, she’s been able to make Destroyer, a tough caper film, replete with flashbacks, for the big screen featuring one of Hollywood’s big names, Nicole Kidman, in the lead.
Kidman plays Erin Bell, a cop who drinks too much, looks as if she’s just rolled out of bed or even the front seat of her car, but knows more than anyone else about solving a case. She’s the type of character that Robert Mitchum would have played in the Fifties: cynical, used up, but with enough wit and experience to take on the crooks and grifters who are fouling up inner cities.
From the moment she walks into a crime scene to the displeasure of the local police, Erin/Nicole knows who killed the victim of what appears to be a random shooting. She should—Erin had been undercover with the killer, Silas, 16 years ago, when he pulled off a bank robbery that involved multiple deaths. Now, Silas is back and Erin is out to get him.
In classic detective fiction style, Erin tracks down Silas through members of the crew they once knew, each offering up another underworld low-life, who can lead to her nemesis. Kusama shoots these scenes with relish, showing the gritty side of L.A. Erin is very much a part of that unsavory environment. Although she’s held onto being a cop, she’s destroyed her relationship with Shelby, her teenaged daughter and has damaged every friendship she’s ever made.
In flashbacks, the young Erin and her embedded partner Chris fall in love while working for Silas on the robbery. Even before the secret is revealed, you know that Chris will die in the robbery and that’s why Erin wants to track down Silas.
Destroyer updates the classic noir by having Kidman play the hard-bitten detective instead of a middle-aged man. Kidman has deservedly won praise for her committed performance as Erin Bell and Kusama should gain plaudits for her impressionistic adaptation of a downbeat police drama. For those of us who love the form, that’s enough and, in fact, I really enjoyed the film. But it’s fair to add that not everyone likes film noir and if you don’t, this won’t the movie that will change your mind. Still, I can’t help endorsing Destroyer, albeit with reservations.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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