Destroyer is a character driven story, told in non-chronological order, set around Nicole Kidman’s bad-cop Erin Dell. It is a treat to watch Kidman play a character who is constantly on edge and dragged through the mud, in a change from her more motherly roles. A gritty cop drama set over decades from when Erin first goes undercover to take down a gang of thieves, to the present when the same gang resurfaces.
Destroyer is foremost about motherhood, but in its most dysfunctional form; unlike her roles in Lion or Aquaman, Erin is too unhinged to really look after her daughter. Shelby Bell (Jade Pettyjohn) frequently skips school, hanging out in seedy bars with her boyfriend who is an adult preying on an underage girl. If that wasn’t bad enough Erin received a $100 bill covered in dye in her mail. A sign she knows relates to the gang she went undercover with nearly 15 years ago. Caught between looking for her daughter and herself, Erin takes an objective view to life where the ends will justify the means.
Erin travels across LA to meet the remaining gang members to see if they can point to the gang leader Silas (Toby Kebbell), witnessing the effects a life of crime, drugs and aging has had on them. In a similar structure to Memento, the film is told in reverse order – characters are introduced in the past, only to die in the next scene in the present. In one scene Erin meets Toby (James Jordan) who is confined to a bed and on the edge of dying; her interrogation doesn’t go to plan and it’s one of the more disturbingly quiet scenes in the film as she complies with his request to get what she wants. At times it’s not clear if she’s after Silas or if he’s after her in this cat and mouse chase.
Every member of the cast is phenomenal, Sebastian Stan and Toby Kebbell support the cast as Erin’s partner and gang leader respectively. Sebastian and Nicole make a convincing couple undercover, hiding their identities and intentions from the gang as they move closer to gathering enough evidence to take them down. Tatiana Maslany is also great as the comparably deranged gang member Petra; capable of being both dramatic and tragic in her portrayal. While Nicole Kidman takes pains to stretch herself in a unique role, it is a shame that her wig may prove too distracting – too big and off-balance it does stand out.
The film continues to jump back and forth through the years, leading to their climaxes in a structure, once again reminiscent of Memento. Director Karyn Kusama presents a film set in LA’s back alleys and sun-bleached drug dens, the violence is thick and fast, while the human drama is earnest. Erin makes plenty of mistakes, but she is dedicated to her daughter. Destroyer is about Erin facing her mistakes even to the point of self-destruction.
Destroyer is released on the 25th January 2019.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam.
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