Destroyer, directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body) follows hard-edged LA Detective, Erin Bell (played by the mesmeric, Nicole Kidman) through her vengeful quest to track down the man who ruined her life. As a young police officer, Bell went undercover to infiltrate a gang, with catastrophic consequences. Seventeen years on, the leader of the gang arises, and Bell obsessively hunts down his former gang members to find his whereabouts, and finally bring him to justice.
Detective Bell is a woman possessed; she’s tortured and layered with complexity, and someone you certainly wouldn’t want to f*ck with. It’s clear why Kidman gives one of her most engaging performances to date. Superbly written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the notion of deeply flawed, corrupt cop – roles traditionally reserved for men – is given new life in that of a female protagonist, who is unlike many we’ve seen on screen before. I mean this quite literally: Kidman is unrecognisable. She’s a worn-down, willowy figure who stalks the barren streets of Los Angeles in relentless pursuit of the criminal that got away. Often obtaining information in unprincipled ways – like kidnapping and bashing people’s heads in – Bell stops at nothing to reap justice.
Contrary to most detective thrillers, there are no snappy one-liners, no comedic sidekick, or punchy-humour to lighten the mood. Bell is a deeply troubled individual– she’s a drunk, an insomniac, and has frayed relationships with everyone she comes into contact with – particularly with her teenage daughter, Shelby (played by Jade Pettyjohn).
Masterfully shot by Kusama, each scene brings with it a heightened intensity. Flashbacks are used purposefully throughout to strengthen the backstory of our characters and their relationships. Hay and Manfredi’s script have us questioning the reliability of our narrator, which keeps the twist towards the end of the film surprising and satisfying.
Throughout her endeavours, Bell faces a great deal of abuse; she’s viciously beaten by men – and one woman – and as a woman, watching Bell get callously beaten by a man is near unbearable to watch. But, she is smart and blind with rage, and though, as always, I don’t condone violence, there was something empowering about seeing Bell crack a bloke in the head with a soap dish until he’s unconscious, after he’d punched and kicked her until she was sick.
In an interview with Kinetophone, musical composer Theodore Shapiro said, “The music for Destroyer comes first and foremost out of the character of Detective Erin Bell… through extensive conversations with Karyn Kusama, we as a team began to wrestle with how to give a musical language to this profoundly complicated female protagonist.” With thrashing guitars and delicate strings, the musical composition stood out and fulfilled its purpose beautifully, echoing the central protagonist, and eliciting a sense of foreboding, anger, tension, and then finally peace.
Nicole Kidman is compelling as the cutting, tenacious detective with a tortured past. Her intimidating screen presence is potent and enthralling, and it will hook you in until the credits start to roll. Kusama and Kidman are at the top of their game in Destroyer; together they’ve created not only a memorable, visceral female protagonist, but have also captured the revolutionary power of women’s anger. Destroyer is exciting and heart-breaking, but above all else, it will have audiences thinking: never underestimate a woman.
Don’t even think about giving this one a miss! Destroyer is in cinemas now.