Destroyer came out at the tail end of January, and was up against both The Mule and Vice to grab box-office receipts that week. The film had a smaller release than both of those much bigger films, but I luckily caught it at the Cineworld Bradford before it disappeared the following week. Despite the star power of Nicole Kidman, it didn’t set the world alight, but it deserved much more attention.
Nicole Kidman plays Erin Bell, a jaded, aging LAPD detective. At the very start she arrives at the scene of a “John Doe” murder, proclaims that she knows who did it, and walks off. Ink-stained dollars are found on the body, and through a series of flashbacks you discover that t may tie back to an undercover case she had. The John Doe murder also seems to suggest that her former nemesis, the crime lord Silas (Tony Kebbel), may be still at large.
It’s funny that with the push to highlight female directors in the industry, two of the better crime films of 2018 (Destroyer was released in the US in 2018 for awards consideration) were directed by women… Destroyer and Galveston (which is getting dumped onto DVD/streaming in June for UK viewers). However, these got little to no fanfare. Perhaps it’s because crime films are considered such a man’s medium by some? Of course, that’s bogus, because there have been plenty of good crime films directed by women, going all the way back to Ida Lupino. Karyn Kusama, who is one of the more interesting female directors to come up in the last 20 years, directs Destroyer, and her direction is almost as much of a tour de force as Kidman’s performance. She directs with the flair of a Michael Mann, but with a tenth of the budget and all the better for it.
Kidman gives perhaps her most committed performance in over a decade. If anything, she has become an infinity more interesting actress in the last ten years then in her entire career before. It’s a perfect mixture of both prosthetics to change her movie-star face into this rugged mess of a broken woman, and her physicality, that shows the toll her lifestyle has taken on her and her daughter. Kidman is very much the actress that Hollywood believes Meryl Streep is: the only true thing Donald Trump has ever said was that Meryl Streep is overrated… She is good, but she isn’t the queen of acting that Hollywood believes she is.
The supporting cast is strong, with the always-reliable Scoot McNairy as Erin’s ex Ethan, Sebastian Stan as her police partner, and Tony Kebbel as Silas. It conveys a sense of existential longing, and is the film that the recent Out of Blue wishes it was—but that film is a perfect example of the fact that female directors can make pretentious garbage just as well as the men, now that’s real equality.
The action of Destroyer is set in the sun-drenched streets and backstreets of L.A. It uses a couple of locations we’ve all seen before, but cinematographer Julie Kirkwood shoots them in a way that sheds new light on these areas. It really captures a dark underbelly of L.A. that is a far cry from the usual noir: it’s more Breaking Bad than Chinatown.
The Blu-Ray includes zilch in the way of special features, and doesn’t port over the two commentary tracks and making-of featurette from the US Blu-Ray.