Roni Rampant here,
I love a gritty, bare-knuckle noir drama. I’m just going to get that out there so you know where I’m coming from when I say that DESTROYER was my favorite film of Fantastic Fest, and possibly my favorite film of the year.
Nicole Kidman plays LAPD Detective Erin Bell, whose years of undercover work have let her with a bad case of PTSD, a drinking problem, and a whole lot of rage. She’s managed to drive away both her ex (Scoot McNairy) and her acting-out teenage daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn). When a body turns up in the LA Aqueduct, Bell is taken on a journey into the past that propels her to a shocking but inevitable confrontation with herself.
Sounds like pretty standard noir fare, right? Except that in the hands of director Karyn Kusama, it becomes a stark and powerful meditation on life, family, and healing. She plays with narrative time in a way that culminates in a surprising twist and an imagistic climax that’s burned itself into my brain, even three months later. In the end, Erin Bell’s white hot rage burns so hot that it turns into some kind of cleansing redemption.
Honestly, if this movie was directed by Michael Mann – AND IT COULD HAVE BEEN, it’s at that level – nobody would be able to get done raving about how great it is. Instead, what you’re going to see are a lot of reviews along the lines of “golly, Nicole Kidman looks ugly in this movie, what a brave choice” as if choosing to wear a prosthetic nose is what determines acting skill (kind of like guys crying in war movies, it’s one of those things that gets mistaken for “great acting.”) But I would encourage you to ignore those reviews and look deeper.
Kidman’s performance drives the movie, an emotional core of unrelenting, often painful, white hot rage that, we come to understand, is what she chooses to carry because it burns away all the other emotions – grief, heartbreak, helplessness, confusion – that she can’t deal with. It drives some amazing action sequences, but when she needs to sit down to lunch with her daughter, for example, it becomes painfully obvious that being human isn’t Bell’s strong suit. Kusama directing is both muscular and subtle, playing adeptly with narrative time, and she handles the action and character stuff with equal aplomb.
In the end, DESTROYER is about what we choose to leave and what we choose to carry. I'm kind of sorry this had a Christmas release because it's likely to get lost in a sea of prestige projects. But don't sleep on this. DESTROYER is good stuff.
- Roni Rampant aka Janet Harvey
Writer/director of A MILLION HITS, now avail on Amazon Prime! https://tinyurl.com/yahy2qel