Nicole Kidman hasn’t transformed herself on screen this drastically since playing Virginia Woolf in “The Hours,” which won her an Academy Award. Kidman is the only reason to see “Destroyer,” in which she plays an irritable detective chasing suspects, carrying heavy firearms, and beating bad guys with an ashtray. Director Karyn Kusama does not have a good film track record. Duds like “Aeon Flux” and “Jennifer’s Body” show signs of creativity that never coalesce into a satisfying finished product. Sadly, the same goes for “Destroyer,” despite its committed lead actor. Kidman, who fought for the role, persuading Kusama to make the character a bit older than written, certainly gets kudos for challenging herself and stepping into new territory.
The past 15 years have been hell for LAPD detective Erin Bell (Kidman). The once-promising FBI agent was involved in a psychologically devastating undercover operation with partner Chris (Sebastian Stan), who she became romantically involved with. Now a divorced alcoholic, she receives a calling card sent to her office that’s a sobering wake-up call — vengeance might have finally arrived. Bell follows a trail of criminals she once pretended to partner with in order to find the one man responsible for her misfortune. Unconcerned with the law or protocol, nothing will stand in her way to provide a way out for 15-year-old estranged daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn).
Kidman portrays Bell like death warmed up in a microwave. You can’t tell if she is wearing heavy makeup or if her face is just filthy. Kidman’s voice is scratchy as if the character has abused her vocal cords with booze and cigarettes one time too many. Most suspense or thriller genre films use an intense musical score to clue the audience into an adrenaline-filled scene. Often, Theodore Shapiro’s score will rise to that pulse-pounding intensity, yet Bell is simply driving down the highway in her car, making the moment feel like a huge letdown. The best scene in the film occurs when Bell accidentally stumbles on a bank robbery, and it’s the film’s only explosive moment. This sequence momentarily lifts “Destroyer” from its seemingly comfortable vapid pace.
The elements that don’t work are far more conspicuous here than the ones that do. Bradley Whitford (previously in “Get Out”) has one scene that’s full of comedic irony, not to mention the assault with an ashtray. Unfortunately, it seems like a moment from an entirely different movie. The two male screenwriters, whose credits include “Ride Along” and “R.I.P.D.,” don’t come across as particularly experienced in writing female characters, or moody crime dramas either. That leaves the burden on Kusama and Kidman to navigate tone and complexity, but neither efficiently modify “Destroyer” into an entertaining thriller or a rewarding film. Regretfully, despite a challenging performance, “Destroyer” ends up another dispensable Kusama film.
Final Thought: A nearly unrecognizable Kidman challenges herself in new territory, but the film fails her efforts.