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Destroyer

Year: 2018
Production Co: Annapurna
Director: Karyn Kusuma
Writer: Phil Hay/Matt Manfredi
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan Bradley Whitford, Scoot McNairy, Beau Knapp

This isn't the first time an actress previously thought of as glamourous has dirtied up to play a searing dramatic role (think Charlize Theron in Monster), and it's also not the first time Nicole Kidman herself has tried to play it more real using several drama thriller tropes (alcoholic, cop, grizzled, emotionally closed off, etc).

She's all the above as Erin Bell, an archetypally damaged homicide detective whose past threatens to overtake her unless she does something about it. She has a teenage daughter who barely even sees her anymore, let alone likes her, flipping gender stereotypes on their heads thanks to Erin rather than a male parent being filled with rage and obsessed with her work to the point it's long since estranged her daughter from her.

As the movie opens she shows up at a murder scene in the weed-strewn concrete banks of the LA River, and it's obvious her colleagues don't want her there but she announces she knows the victim. When she gets back to the station a package turns up for her – a $100 bill splattered with the protective dye banks use to mark bills taken in robberies.

She alone knows it was taken from a heist years earlier, and she believes it's proof the ringleader has resurfaced and wants to torment her. As she sets about looking into the case herself the past that's caught up to her is very – veeeery – slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks.

Once fresher faced and more idealistic, Erin was sent undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) into the graces of a criminal gang in order to take them down, all of them held in sway by their charismatic leader Silas (Toby Kebbell). Ingratiated in the gang and with a major sting in the planning, Erin and Chris fall in love and find themselves questioning whether actually committing the robbery, quitting the force and living off the proceeds might lead to the life they really want together.

Back in the present day, Erin tracks down and goes through the old gang members using anything from denigrating sexual favours to threats to find her way to Silas to avenge whatever he did to her, including a nail biting shootout in a bank they hit, confirming Erin's suspicions that Silas is active again.

When we see the pivotal robbery from years earlier we know it's all going to go pear shaped and explain both why Chris isn't around anymore and why Erin's life, health and family has crumbled so completely since.

There was a lot of critical praise around the movie when it came out and it should absolutely be applauded not just for having formidable female talents in front of and behind the camera but for portraying an essentially good woman who isn't a princess or a saint.

But I wanted to like it more than I did. To be honest I found Kidman's portrayal of Erin a bit amateurish, not much beyond a bad wig and a low, growly voice like Christian Bale doing Batman. Even worse, I was increasingly irritated by the fecklessness of the character. Everything I'd seen and read beforehand made me think she was going to be a kind of female Dirty Harry, kicking arse and taking names among LA's scumbags to reach her goal.

Instead, she kind of pouts and whines and gives in a lot. Every time she meets her kid ends with the teen girl giving her a mouthful, standing up and storming out while Erin calls after her plaintively. When she needs info from a former gang member who's now gravely ill and housebound, she doesn't light a cigarette and kneel on his balls while threatening to stub it out on his eye if he doesn't tell her what she wants to know, she agrees to give the guy a handjob.

I just found myself forever waiting for her to really throw down and be tough and she never did – maybe writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi or director Karyn Kusuma wanted to give her a little bit of female vulnerability (and again, that's to be applauded), but I wanted her to have at least a couple of moments of toughness to show us she's a force to be reckoned with.

In the end, the only really outstanding element is the soundtrack by Theodore Shapiro.

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