October 18, 2018

VIFF 2018 | Nicole Kidman Solves 'Destroyer'

Nicole Kidman Karyn Kusama | Destroyer | VIFF 2018

VIFF 2018Karyn Kusama's latest film feels like almost a parody of the gritty Los Angeles cop movie genre with all the usual hard-boiled clichés. Destroyer stars a very unconventional and deglamorized Nicole Kidman as both the younger, naïve undercover agent and very dishevelled, damaged older versions of her LAPD Detective Erin Bell.

How Bell became her broken present self is slowly revealed through a series of interlocking flashbacks with dual timelines set sixteen years apart that inform her mission to bring down a mysterious foe from her past. Phill Hay and Matt Manfredi's ultra-moody, over the top script boils the structurally step-by-step events into a loop that recounts a bank robbery gone bad.

In dual older/younger performances, Kidman stretches herself to build the film's cynical sense of justice while stereotypically exploring its seedy setting full of ramshackle character conflicts. How cops and criminals are intertwined and the events of the past build to the present is bluntly dramatized. Set in extremes, the plot unfolds to flesh out how grief manifests over time.

Nicole Kidman Karyn Kusama | Destroyer | VIFF 2018

The film is often saved from its self-seriousness by an intriguing cast including a really well-worn and perfectly cast Sebastian Stan in addition to Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford, and Tatiana Maslany as Bell's questionable cohorts in the past and present. Sadly, Toby Kebbell as the big bad is underutilized and never quite threatening despite his talent while also being saddled with a floppy wig in flashbacks.

Kidman's intense performance aside, Destroyer takes itself far too seriously with an unearned twisty ending that almost feels like satirical. Kusama's earnest direction and keen eye cannot overcome the questionable tone and bursting moodiness. Case in point, there are more than a few slow-motion close-up shots of kids skateboarding to signify meaning.

Destroyer screened at the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama stream. It opens in Vancouver on January 25th.

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