Film Review: Nicole Kidman is unrecognisable as a broken cop in Destroyer (USA, 2018)

Cops are tops. But if you’re Erin Bell in Destroyer you’re less tops and more likely to be drinking hops. Nicole Kidman plays a bedraggled and unrecognisable detective in this noir. While there are some moments where it is thrilling, most of it is far too slow-burning and perfunctory to really cut through.

This film isn’t a neat and linear one. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s script jumps around between the past and the present. When we first meet Erin Bell she looks like she’s been up for several days (the make-up artists have done brilliant work here). This detective has discovered a dead man and some dye-stained money. She vows to solve the crime, even if it means she has to do it alone.

The other main thread in this story sees Bell as a young officer sent off on an undercover assignment. She works along with her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya)) to investigate a gang. Some mistakes are made and there are ramifications down the line. Bell falls pregnant. In the present, this child is now an unruly teenager (Jade Pettyjohn) who is butting heads with her alcoholic mother.

This film would have worked better if it had been edited down. At two hours it is far too long. This means that the more thrilling and intense aspects are diluted and lack impact. This film is trying to be a character study and build the backstories for the individuals, but a lot of this gets lost in translation. The plot flits back and forth too much, so it can be tricky to follow at times. But even with this, some people will be able to pick the ending, because it is quite predictable.

Kidman gives a subtle but effective performance here. She exudes an intensity that carries this lacklustre noir. There are some moments of pure action like bloody violence and a pistol-whipping. Director, Karyn Kusama has put together a gritty and rough-around-the-edges film, but sometimes the proceedings mean it is far too mechanical for its own good.

Destroyer is a film that does what it says on the tin. It is about a rough and battle-hardened, LA cop. This California girl may be commanding at turns, but this slow character study is a hard slog. This is ultimately a banal eve of destruction and a stretch along a well-trodden road.



Destroyer opens in cinemas nationally on 21 March.