Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Review: 'Destroyer' is Nicole Kidman's 'Monster' moment

Further proof, if needed, that the actress is more than a pretty face

Kidman has been accused of using the 'uglyfied' role to chase an Oscar. Annapurna Pictures
Kidman has been accused of using the 'uglyfied' role to chase an Oscar. Annapurna Pictures

Karyn Kusama’s gritty police drama Destroyer offers a refreshingly nuanced take on the old cop on a mission to avenge their slain partner trope, and also offers viewers a chance to see Nicole Kidman as we’ve never seen her before.

Left: Nicole Kidman on the red carpet in 2018, right: Nicole Kidman in 'Destroyer'.
Left: Nicole Kidman on the red carpet in 2018, right: Nicole Kidman in 'Destroyer'.

Erin is an LA cop with a dark past and a lot of issues. She’s estranged from her husband, played by Scoot McNairy, and her troubled teenage daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) has chosen to live with her father rather than her shambling wreck of a mother. Erin barely holds down her job, and hopelessly fails to connect with her daughter, in between regular bouts of drinking and blackouts.

Over the course of the film, we learn through flashbacks what brought Erin to this state. Years ago, a young rookie Erin was sent deep undercover to infiltrate a particularly brutal gang of serial armed robbers alongside Sebastian Stan’s Chris, her fake husband for the job. Things did not go well, and the guilt Erin carries with her is matched only by her burning desire to catch the gang’s leader Silas (Kebbell) and have her revenge.

The old gang have been hiding underground for years since that fateful last job that kick started Erin’s demise, and when a former member turns up murdered, Erin is back on the trail like a bloodhound.

Nicole Kidman plays a tough LAPD detective in the film.
Nicole Kidman plays a tough LAPD detective in the film. Annapurna Pictures

It’s a bleak tale, and the broken state of Erin’s mind is accompanied by cinematography that would not look out of place in a Western. Although the film is set in urban LA, the washed-out colours and piercing sunlight give the feel of a desert more than a city, reflecting the scorched earth of Erin’s soul. The stark contrast between the typically gorgeous, fresh-faced Kidman in the flashback scenes and the haggard, alcoholic wreck of modern-day Erin further underlines how far she has fallen.

The big talking point around the movie is sure to be Kidman’s performance. Kidman turned to prosthetics to help achieve Erin’s gaunt features, sunken eye sockets and sickly pallour, while her flowing locks are replaced by an unstylish, greying crop.

Nicole Kidman in Destroyer (2018). Annapurna Pictures
Nicole Kidman in 'Destroyer' (2018). Annapurna Pictures

Some cynics have accused Kidman of shamelessly Oscar hunting, of “doing a Charlize Theron”, by dressing down her usually faultless elegance for a character who is ugly both inside and out. They might even have a point, but she’d hardly be the first actor to take on a highly out-of-character role in the hope of recognition. Surely the question should not be “is she allowed?” but “does she do it well?” And the answer is a resounding yes.

Kidman offers an utterly compelling performance as a woman in a personal hell, her obsession driving her only deeper into despair, her relationships broken, her mind and body in much the same state. As Erin closes in on her target, and we learn more about the events that led here, her condition only seems to worsen and we soon begin to suspect that even if she succeeds, the redemption she craves may not lie at the end of her mission at all. The destroyer that Erin has become, we sense, may in fact be a permanent state.

Kidman's proved her worth as an actress plenty of times before, including winning the Best Actress Oscar for The Hours, but if anyone needed further proof that the actress is more than an exceptionally pretty face, here it is.

Updated: January 28, 2019 05:04 PM

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