Nicole Kidman in a scene from "Destroyer." (AP)
Nicole Kidman in a scene from "Destroyer." (AP)


Erin Bell is a washed-up, self-destructive detective who is drawn into a new case involving a group of criminals whose gang she infiltrated years previously in a disastrous undercover operation. Will this case drag her even further down as it reopens old wounds or will it giver her one final shot at redemption?


Continuing Nicole Kidman’s return to prominence, Destroyer casts her in the sort of role that is almost entirely the opposite of the sort on which she built her name. Where once she was typecast in roles that called for a certain brittleness and fragility (see the underrated horror film, The Others, for arguably the best example of this), here she plays someone tough and almost entirely emotionally closed off. She is, in short, excellent as our anti-hero Erin Bell. Sadly, she is hampered by having to act her way through some distractingly overblown “uglifying” makeup, playing a character that is almost entirely impossible to care about in a crime-film narrative that is as unengaging as it is uninspired. 

There is, I suppose, something to celebrate about a female director who can make a film far more brutal and ugly than most of her male counterparts but, though Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Aeon Flux) clearly does have an eye for spotlighting the grimiest sides of the City of Angels and a willingness to get down and dirty in the depths of the crime genre, she falls prey to one of the deadliest traps of this particular sort of film: it’s all but impossible to care about anything that happens in it.

Crime films are, more often than not, about horrible people doing horrible things, which means that in order for a film in that genre to win over audiences, it needs to give them something on which to hang their hat. This could be anything from razor-sharp dialogue to sympathetic (or at least interesting) characters to incisive social satire. It needs something, in short, to make people care about its horrible people doing horrible things to one another. For all of its virtues, Destroyer fails miserably at that, turning a potentially interesting story about a broken cop trying to find redemption and revenge in a case that returns her to the moment that has haunted her ever since, into a grey, dirgy slog. 

The fact that there is nothing remotely original about Destroyer – and, no, the portrayal of an emotionally stunted, tough-as-nails female cop is not the innovation that some claim it to be – isn’t so much a problem, nor really is its unwavering brutality. What is a problem, though, is the execution of its familiar premise. 

Destroyer isn’t a bad movie because its plot is familiar or that it’s almost impressively ugly down to its filthy, rotten core (though that doesn’t help). It’s a bad movie because its story is made overly convoluted by a flashback-heavy structure that all builds up to a reveal that just about anyone could figure out within the first ten minutes of the film. It’s a bad movie because it fails to understand the effectiveness of humour, even pitch-black humour, to both counteract and amplify its relentless bleakness. It’s a bad movie because it fails spectacularly to give us so much as a single character to give a crap about in the first place.    

All the great performances, artistic direction and obvious conviction can’t make up for a film that is dull, dour, overly long, humourless, badly constructed, hideously ugly and utterly unable to evoke even the faintest hints of sympathy in its audience. Despite the makeup work that doesn’t so much make her look ravaged by hard living – which is obviously the intention – as much as it makes her look barely human, Nicole Kidman’s current winning streak won’t be destroyed by Destroyer. Would that I could say the same about the two hours of my time that I spent enduring it.