Destroy, Kween

Nicole Kidman Gets Tough in a B-Movie Cop Thriller

Oh, snap! Nicole pulled out the ugly make-up again. Last time that happened, she glued on a fake nose and Viginia-Woolfed her way to Oscar glory. But this time, the dress-up chest is nowhere near as tony. Anything but.

This time, Kidman gets gritty for Destroyer, a mangy, pulpy L.A. noir with the requisite twists, turns, double-crosses and reveals to make for a not-half-bad tour of underworld villainy. She plays brooding, bitter LAPD gumshoe Erin Bell, trying to track down the killer of a thug with a unflashy but unmistakable neck tattoo. And her only other clue is a stained 100-dollar bill from a botched robbery.

DESTROYER ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford
Running time: 123 min.


No one really wants her help—she’s a pain in everyone’s ass—but Bell is an effective cop and starts to unravel a path that points toward vicious lowlife Silas (Toby Kebbell). Turns out, she and fellow officer Chris (Sebastian Stan) worked undercover for the psychopathic gang leader, and the experience nearly broke her. Adding to her peril was her budding romance with Chris, which led to a now-estranged 16-year-old daughter (Jade Prettyjohn). So there’s a lot to hate about Silas. And Bell is nothing if not full of hate.

She’s also probably full of lice, considering that derelict-chic outfit. Channeling her inner vagrant, with a puffy gone-to-shit visage covering that porcelain-doll complexion, Kidman spits and hisses her way through the movie. She’s a broken-down mess, with a weary gait that practically trails a Pigpen dust cloud.

I’d like to thank the Academy 

But Kidman can still throw down. In one invigorating sequence, Bell pulls out heavy weaponry from her car trunk for some messy crossfire at an in-progress bank heist. And when she has to confront a smarmy, smack-talking criminal lawyer (Bradley Whitford, relishing his assholery), she ends up pistol-whipping him with avenging-angel relish. It’s refreshing to see that Kidman’s avian bone structure is actually a lot more lethal than it looks.

You can’t jibe Destroyer for false advertising. Kusama’s film is a fitfully engaging look at the corrosive effects of cops-and-robbers nihilism. It works, then sputters, then pulls itself together again for a few tougher-than-leather flourishes. There’s nothing graceful in its structure, only menace that lingers with a perpetual grimace. In another decade and with a lower-wattage cast, this would be prime B-picture material: nasty and disposable.

But Destroyer bluffs its way to lower depths due to Kidman’s dogged commitment to the pain. There’s no justice for her. There’s just the nagging itch for a closure that may never come. And Kidman’s obsessive scratches draw blood.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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