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Destroyer – Movie Review

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Destroyer – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

During the early 2000’s, there was a period of hard-boiled and gritty detective films that played with narrative and structure in order to throw the wool over an audience’s eyes. Destroyer definitely seems to harken back to that period and does it with success. Under director Karyn Kusama’s wild direction and featuring a strong lead performance from Nicole Kidman, Destroyer effectively jumps between present day and flashback as we attempt to put the pieces together. There is also a mother-daughter story interwoven throughout that proves to be engaging and heartfelt, adding a further element to Detective Erin Bell’s development.

What is immediately striking is how unrecognizable Kidman is. With disheveled hair and her face made up with freckles, she looks like someone who has been through a lot. Kidman’s performance does the rest, as she walks out in an almost drunken state and makes Erin a captivating personality. That creates the necessary interest to follow the rest of her story. Kusama is also able to seamlessly jump between the flashbacks and the present day scenes and thankfully, both portions are engaging. The film properly navigates the difficult relationship between Erin and her daughter and it’s easy to understand both of their points-of-view and why they are at odds with each other.

While the central mystery is involving, Kusama also crafts some exciting and thrilling action scenes as we witness Erin go undercover with a band of bank robbers. She builds the necessary tension, mostly because of how Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s screenplay has developed each character. In the present day scenes, there’s a necessary ruthlessness with which Erin conducts her investigations and we frequently see the gears turning inside of her head. There are so many points where she has to think on her feet and while the crusty, but smart cop is a familiar cliché, there is a freshness to the way it’s depicted here.

The shoot-ups are also worth mentioning, edited with the proper impact. These sorts of sequences are hard to make unique, but Kusama finds a way. The various twists and turns of the story are well handled and don’t feel outlandish when they’re revealed. Nicole Kidman unsurprisingly gives the best performance in the film, but the rest of the ensemble cast fare well, too. Kidman and Sebastian Stan have solid chemistry and Toby Kebbell makes for a compelling villain. Tatiana Maslany is one of a number of cast members required to play her character at different ages and does it convincingly. However, it’s Bradley Whitford who ends up stealing the show for a one-scene appearance that’s both chilling and darkly funny.

It seems odd to call something a throwback to the kind of movie that existed not that long ago. However, it’s appreciative Destroyer decided to pay homage to early 2000’s indie films without feeling outdated. The plot turns are well handled by Kusama and her writers and she gives Kidman enough space to create a fully dimensional and fascinating protagonist. The film is able to be properly gritty in a way that fits the story and the central mystery. Detective movies are a dime-a-dozen and Destroyer thankfully finds its own voice and its own clever structure.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison