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Destroyer

Released 2018. Director: Karyn Kusama

NICOLE KIDMAN'S FACE TAKES UP THE ENTIRE MOVIE POSTER. She stares at you with a severe gaze of burning intensity, the kind that warns you to get out of her way. How you respond to the movie Destroyer will depends largely on how you respond to Kidman’s performance here because she absolutely dominates the movie from start to finish.

This is not one of the usual roles one might associate with the statuesque actress in a domestic setting. You might need a moment to realise it’s Kidman if you didn’t recognise her at first. She looks worn out, haggard, different. Her face is a look of neglect, there’s determination in her eyes but they look fatigued, her hair hasn’t met a brush in weeks. Her tall frame simply hangs over as she shuffles.

Although her character is a detective with the LAPD, one might mistake her for a junkie or someone who's stopped looking after herself. She doesn’t have friends at the department and doesn't want to work with a partner on her cases. In short, she’s not a people person.

At the start of the movie, we see Kidman’s character, Erin Bell, arrive at a crime scene where an unidentified man has been shot dead. There’s a tattoo on the back of the man’s neck which Erin seems to recognise. She goes on a hunt alone, tracking down people from her past, including a gravely ill inmate on the verge of death, a reformed priest and a few more unsavoury characters with a nasty streak.

Through their interactions, all of them unpleasant, to put it mildly, even life-threatening, we see a series of flashbacks to learn about Erin’s undercover assignment 16 years ago into a violent gang which culminated in a botched bank robbery and the shooting death of Erin’s partner.

The past also intrudes on the present as Erin struggles with being an absent mother to an angry, rebellious teenage daughter hell bent on her own destructive path. Mother and daughter manage to sit down long enough to have a moment of honest conversation eventually. In a movie full of simmering rage and full-blown conflicts, the exhaustion, regrets and relief Kidman brings to this scene shows the physical and mental toll Erin has endured for years.

Destroyer unfolds like a TV procedural and the focus is as much on the case as on the cop, if not more. Karyn Kusama melds character study with crime thriller, with a heavier emphasis on the former, with admirable results. What Erin has become is most certainly a consequence of her experience infiltrating the gang. With the past beckoning her, Erin is speeding down a dark alley all guns blazing. Does she hope to find redemption or does she care where she might end up?

Near the end, Kusama reveals a sleight of hand when she brings us back to the opening scene and we realise the movie hasn’t been told in a strict linear sense. Viewed in a new light, the start of the movie becomes an explanation as well as a resolution.

Taking on a rough and physical role, Kidman not only undergoes an exterior transformation, but a lot of the weight is internal struggle. Kidman hasn’t had a part like this in over a decade, a reminder that she still has that ability to disappear into a role and emerge a character you don’t expect.



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