Film review: Cop character study Destroyer an acting masterclass by Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman as Erin Bell in Destroyer
Damon Smith

A TRAGICALLY flawed Los Angeles police detective seeks redemption on the mean streets where she fell from grace in director Karyn Kusama's gritty crime thriller.

Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, Destroyer opens on the face of a woman, bathed in morning sunlight, regaining consciousness in the front seat of her car.

Heavy circles of tiredness hang under her blinking eyes, her teeth are stained, the skin of her dry lips slightly cracked in the scorching heat and tumbles of greying hair frame her haggard features.

Buried beneath all that despair is chameleonic Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, who delivers a fearless and uncompromising performance that elevates and illuminates Kusama's uneven character study.

She is reckless and defiant, promising to break the law she is supposed to uphold to drive her daughter's no-good boyfriend out of the city.

"If you come back I'll kill you," snarls the cop. "It'll be easy, because I don't care what happens to me."

We don't doubt her for a second.

Ambitious, cocksure LAPD officer Erin Bell (Kidman) goes undercover with handsome FBI agent Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a gang of robbers. They pose as a couple and Chris ensures their chemistry is believable.

"Kiss me," he orders Erin. "I don't want to look surprised the first time it happens in public."

She follows orders with lip-smacking gusto.

"You think you can fake liking that?" she smiles. "I think so," he smirks in return.

Erin and Chris develop a fiery romantic relationship, which compromises the operation, and they agree to carry out the bank robbery orchestrated by gang leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) then flee with their cut.

Seventeen years later, Erin – now a booze-soaked embarrassment to the force – receives a dye-stained $100 bill from that ill-fated heist. She deduces old foe Silas has resurfaced and vows to track him down.

Erin follows a trail of evidence that links associates and former gang members including Arturo (Zach Villa), money-laundering lawyer DiFranco (Bradley Whitford) and Silas's girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany).

Meanwhile, there is trouble closer to home when Erin's estranged teenage daughter (Jade Pettyjohn) plays truant from school to be with her waster older boyfriend (Beau Knapp).

Destroyer is an acting masterclass from Kidman, whose battered, weary body seems to be weighed down with bitterness and regret.

With its fragmented chronology punctuated by a couple of slickly executed bank robberies, Kusama's picture is a slog, slip-sliding inexorably into the depths of purgatory with a woman who knows that death is the only sure-fire release from self-imposed misery.

DESTROYER (15, 121 mins) Thriller/Romance/Action. Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Bradley Whitford, Tatiana Maslany, Zach Villa, Jade Pettyjohn, Beau Knapp. Director: Karyn Kusama.

RATING: 6/10

Released: January 25 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas

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