This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 16/10/2018.
You can’t even look at a still of Destroyer without discussing the elephant in the room. Nicole Kidman blows everything else out of the water – the confidence in her performance is astounding. While no stranger to her darker side, she goes for broke here, taking antihero to the absolute extreme. It’s not just a physical transition – Erin Bell is rotting from the inside out, and it never feels like Kidman is just hiding behind the makeup or aping some Captain Sparrow-esque caricature.
Kidman swallows Destroyer up and spits out the bones, although she leaves just enough scraps to let her costars have some fun too. Bradley Whitford and Tatiana Maslany are particularly abrasive in their smaller roles, but also find the empathy in unlikability that is necessary for Destroyer to work. Toby Kebbell and Sebastian Stan are clearly having fun against type as well, although necessary plot limitations relegate them to the background, even when Kebbell’s awful wig isn’t drawing focus.
This is Kidman’s movie, but she’s helped along by a sharp, acerbic script. The tone is bleak but not overly black and white – although the film is let down by a lack of confidence in its audience. Cracking slow-burn is fizzled a little by flashback exposition in the final act, and even Kidman’s performance is slightly undercut by one too many visual metaphors. Most egregiously, Destroyer ends with an over-egged montage which wouldn’t feel out of place in a Nationwide advert.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles with a mesmerising piece of cinema by director Karyn Kusama. Destroyer isn’t an easy watch but it is a thrilling one, bolstered by a juddering score and Kusama’s keen eye for the macabre. Seek it out – if only to stay on Nicole Kidman’s good side. She’s done playing around.
CAST: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany
DIRECTOR: Karyn Kusama
WRITERS: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
SYNOPSIS: A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.