DESTROYER. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, and Toby Kebbell. Also starring Tatiana Maslany, and Bradley Whitford.  Directed by Karyn Kusama. Rated MA15+. Restricted (Strong violence, sex and coarse language). 121 min.

This American crime drama is directed from a screenplay written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi who wrote the movie. It tells the story of an undercover police officer grappling with the consequences of an undercover operation that went terribly wrong. Nicole Kidman, who takes the lead role under the direction of a female Director, was nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globe Awards in 2019 for her role as the undercover officer. 

In the movie, Los Angeles Detective, Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is a tortured, jaded detective who stumbles from a car she regularly sleeps in, underneath a busy overpass, to unofficially interrupt the murder scene of a gangland killing. She proceeds to tell the investigative officers, who don’t want her there at all, that she knows the identity of the killer.

Erin recognises the work of the gang’s leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell), whom she hates. Silas was the leader of the gang when she was an undercover officer working with her former partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan) in California, 17 years earlier. When the undercover operation went off the rails, she suffered a nervous breakdown, that permanently left her “damaged-goods”.

Well into the movie, flashbacks establish a complex narrative which reveal to the viewer that Erin and Chris worked as undercover agents for the FBI. She and Chris became romantically involved, and were part of Silas’s robbery heist. In the robbery, Chris was shot by Silas and killed when he attempted to stand in Silas’ way. Now, years later, Silas is back in action and Erin wants revenge for Silas killing her lover.

Nicole Kidman’s performance as an unlikeable detective lies at the core of this strong film. She is virtually unrecognisable in the role of a morally compromised detective who is trying to come to grips with a tragic past. Kidman inhabits the role emotionally. Erin has destroyed others in her past life, and in this film she is well on the way to destroying herself. Kidman delivers a performance that is totally de-glamorised, and she embraces the role wholeheartedly. No attempt is made to soften her appearance - she fearlessly embraces the darkness of it all, and plays a very bad cop. It is a physically and emotionally transformative role for Nicole Kidman to attempt.

The film is a character study in “noir” style of a woman who sets out to make things right for what she has done, and what was done to her in the past. But the film comments additionally on the corruption of law enforcement agencies, and the frustrations of those who think the law moves too slowly to bring criminals to the justice that they deserve. Erin hates Silas for what he did to Chris, and she desperately wants payback.

This is a film in which a tortured policewoman faces the guilt of her past and tries to make herself  accountable for the actions of the present. It is a powerhouse performance by Kidman who excels in the antihero role. Karyn Kusama directs Kidman in a throughly forceful way, but the movie eventually slips into a revenge tale of unforgiving proportions. This is a bleak film with virtually no relief that Kidman dominates, prosthetics and all.

Despite Kidman’s bravura performance, the movie doesn’t live up to the promises it aims to deliver. It veers away from moral debate to become a gritty, unconventional, thriller about a flawed, corrupt cop whose one redeeming feature is that as a concerned mother, she anguishes about the life and past of a difficult, disturbed daughter, who happens to be Chris’s child.

This is not in any way, a movie for the light-hearted. Due to the impact of single scenes (including one very disturbing sex scene), and the movie’s overall aggressive tone and language, this film is a very grim one for public fare. It lies firmly at the upper limits of its MA15+ classification.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Madman Entertainment

Released March 14th., 2019

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