TIFF 2018: Destroyer

Nicole Kidman stars as Erin Bell in Karyn Kusama's DESTROYER, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Destroyer features a strong performance from actress Nicole Kidman but its storytelling decisions might prevent some from truly enjoying the film.

LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) remains haunted by events from years earlier while working undercover.  One day while at the office, Bell becomes the recipient of mail containing dyed money.  She knows then and there that gangster Silas (Toby Kebbell) is back in town.  She’s hell-bent on finding him after what happened years earlier while working on an undercover FBI sting with Chris (Sebastian Stan).  It’s because of her history that she knows what crimes he is capable of doing.

The search is one that takes Bell on a journey back into the past.  Set in past and present Los Angeles, Bell revisits the still-living gang members who she got to know while working undercover.  Whether it’s Silas’ former girlfriend, Petra (Tatiana Maslany), or anyone else, she goes after them.  It wasn’t an easy assignment but the lasting effects haunt the detective to this day.  Most importantly, we can she how hurt she is when thinking about her former FBI partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan).

While finding Silas is her biggest worry, she’s more or less betrayed her own daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn).  They don’t talk.  Shelby is what we would classify as being the typical rebellious daughter.  She causes her more trouble than its worth while distracting her from the search for Silas.  While the film is mostly a cop-centered crime thriller, this dynamic adds to an already complicated story.

What’s great about Destroyer is that we have a female detective front and center for a change.  These are films that typically feature a male cop at the center.  Nicole Kidman does an amazing job while looking unrecognizable in the present day.  It’s a remarkable performance with so many layers contained in this story.

Where the makeup transforms Nicole Kidman into a woman we barely recognize, Tatiana Maslany is just as unrecognizable.  The Orphan Black star turns in a solid supporting performance as Petra.  Among the supporting performances, Bradley Whitford has some fun as money launderer Dennis DiFranco especially showing the obsessive side of parents with children playing sports.

The biggest problem that I have with Destroyer is the narrative choices made in how to tell the story.  Is there a better way to tell the story?  Maybe.  But the fact that we go back and forth so frequently makes it very hard to keep track of what’s happening.  Other films ground these narratives through interviews or court trials.  This isn’t the case for the Los Angeles-set film.  For everything else that’s great about the film, this narrative choice is what kept me from getting into the film.

The narrative may be confusing for some but Destroyer is able to survive more or less on Nicole Kidman’s brilliant acting.

DIRECTOR:  Karyn Kusama
SCREENWRITERS:  Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
CAST:  Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Beau Knapp

Destroyer held its international premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Platform program.  Annapurna Pictures will open the film on December 25, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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