Starring Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Destroyer is so grim, grimy and so airless a cop drama, it's a movie in search of both a good shower and an oxygen tank.
But what's even more pointed is how people in the film keep telling Nicole Kidman — playing seriously damaged and morally shady LAPD undercover cop Erin Bell, aka The Only Character Who Matters Here — how awful she looks.
“You look terrible”, “Jesus, you look old”, “Are you drunk?”— people tell her as she seeks destructive payback against a very personal enemy whose gang she had infiltrated many years ago (the “Destroyer” here refers to her mad obsession).
“I had a rough night,” she replies in a low tone that says: “Hey, look at me. I'm not the gorgeous Nicole Kidman you guys are expecting to see”.
Just to make sure you know that this is a ravishing beauty utterly and totally deglam-ed into MUM (Major Ugly Mode), the camera keeps zooming into full frontal close-ups of her magically transformed face as though this thing is an amazing special-effects feat we're seeing.
Previously beautiful Nicole has blotchy deathly-pale skin, age lines, creases and this is incredible — her zonked-out, battle-weary eyes seem to actually squint closer together, with her mug covered by an unkempt, dirty mess of hair that looks like somebody dumped a kitchen mop on her head.
She's kinda like Al Pacino in all his incarnations as a very worn-out cop teetering on the edge. Only difference is that Pacino never ever played Aquaman's superhot mum.
“Look at that face. You're hungry. Hungry little mutt,” the enigmatic main villain — a vicious gang leader named Silas (The Hurricane Heist's Toby Kebell) — says in a muddled pseudo-philosophical way, treating Kidman's character as some kind of an actual hangdog. Although you aren't really sure just what the hell he means due to the overcooked, over-deep murkiness this flick sinks itself into.
Silas resurfaces after being MIA for a long time. Which means here goes Kidman across the screen as the main event in almost every frame. She hunts him down — nailing gang member after gang member — while staggering around like a dried-up zombie with a gun and a numbing, soul-sucking hangover.
Presumably with director Karyn Kusama's (Jennifer’s Body) orders to not sleep at all during the shoot or maybe down 10 bottles of vodka every night to stay adequately wasted.
Man, the way Kidman's skinny shell of a body gets pummelled, thrown and kicked by the baddies, you actually worry for her health insurers (this flick has a reason for these brutal beatings).
Here's the deal: Destroyer is, as expected, good and tight. But it really isn't very special, unusual or particularly intriguing.
To be fair, though, it's still smart enough to pack its plot into a single day of reckoning which the audience doesn't really realise because the film keeps shifting back and forth between present-day scenes and yesteryear flashbacks to set up a mini “Oh, I see” moment right at the end.
Be warned. The younger Kidman in flashbacks is no heavenly blonde glamour puss either. She's a dark-haired undercover novice, but at least, she doesn't pile on the “Gimme the Oscar right now” make-up.
By the way, those Academy Awards folks were apparently not too impressed by this strenuous effort to go unlovely too. Poor Nicole didn't get an Oscar nomination for her impersonation of The Walking Dead.
Thing is, this is a competent, watchable TV movie-ish cop drama which has been over-glorified and practically subsumed by Kidman's much-ballyhooed uglified presence. The movie, to its detriment, puts so much emphasis and attention on her hardened appearance and her single-minded mission for vengeance that it simply doesn't allow its dour, toxic and emotionally vacant story to breathe, smile a little or even tilt sideways in any other shape, form or manner.
Kidman's Detective Bell is traumatised big-time by the Silas case gone fatally wrong 17 years ago in which she's so deeply submerged she has never been the same person since.
She shuts out her fellow cops, lives virtually out of her car, chases her targets like a crazed, relentless stalker, and loses control over her wayward teenage daughter who hooks up with an older low-life punk.
Back then, she'd planted herself in Silas's criminal gang of bank robbers with a fellow covert cop-turned-accidental lover, Chris (the scene-stealing Sebastian Stan of The Avengers).
His quiet coolness and moral sense of duty was the panacea to her brittle anxiety, jadedness and ensuing corruption from staying too long in hazardous pretence thinking bad thoughts with violent loose cannons.
This dubious side of a conflicted female protagonist is a real kicker and the movie has ample time to flesh out the layers of doubt and complexity enveloping Bell. But it doesn't really attempt this and we don't really know what makes the gal go from a good cop to an iffy one. Instead of exploring Dr Jekyll, Destroyer opts for the showier rampage of Ms Hyde.
But those scenes of Kidman and Stan trapped inside the dangerous posse they have snuck into are really tense, emotional and terrific to watch. You just feel that the movie has curtailed the skills of Oscar winner Kidman by making her look so posy with her make-up.
Maybe if Charlize Theron hadn't gone memorably ugly in Monster and Kidman herself didn't stick a fake nose on her perfect face in The Hours, we might truly be mightily bowled over here. This flick could've gone interestingly psychological. Instead of being overwhelmed by the distractingly physical.
“Let one good thing come from my s***,” the very tired Kidman begs here. Wish they had listened more to her own advice. (***)
Photo: Shaw Organisation