CRIME; 2hr 1min
STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan, Jade Pettyjohn
No holds barred: Kidman
“You look terrible,” her ex-boss tactlessly informs LAPD detective Erin Bell (Kidman), who reacts to the insult with her customary impenetrable stare. He’s not wrong: Kidman has been uglified for Girlfight writer-director Karyn Kusama’s painfully slow burn as never before. Her face is drawn, her gaze simultaneously dead and flayed, and that crop-chopped wig isn’t helping matters.
Erin’s malaise doesn’t end there, either. From the inside out, she’s as arid as humanly possible while still being nominally alive. Mumbling jaundiced observations in an exhausted undertone, she exists primarily in her car, in which she roams Los Angeles’s seamier streets like a hungry stray. Meanwhile, her personal life consists solely of her flighty 16-year-old daughter, Shelby (Pettyjohn), who openly despises her.
In alternating flashbacks, Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi map the route that has taken Erin to where she is. It begins with her undercover stint years before as a member of a Californian gang, which she infiltrated with her then-partner, Chris (Stan). To say it ended badly would be the equivalent of suggesting that Erin could maybe use a facial. The job's train-wreck outcome makes the current re-emergence of unscrupulous gang leader Silas (Kebbell) all the more intolerable to Erin, who is obsessed with hunting him down.
With this questionable aim in mind, she doggedly sets about contacting former gang members, each of them singularly unappealing. Not only is her mission risky and physically injurious to pretty much everyone involved, but in her first, especially excruciating encounter, Erin is forced to deliver the world’s most unenthusiastic handjob in exchange for information. She also does all this without once, it seems, ever changing her clothes, such is her fixity of purpose.
No slouch in the purpose stakes herself, Kidman acts her heart out all the way, so juiced as the action finally heats that her eyes could burn holes in the screen. With its cesspool of bottom-feeders and dim view of life, Destroyer is the ultimate wet blanket. But its star comes out swinging in every punishing scene.