Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Erin Bell has been worn down by her life as a police detective and the alcohol she downs to self-medicate herself. An envelope arrives at her desk containing an ink-stained bill which suddenly pulls her back into memories that are seventeen years old. Erin and her partner Chris went deep undercover to join a bank robbing gang run by Silas, a sociopath. The envelope is a sign to Erin that Silas is back and she starts to hunt down old associates as a means to find where her enemy is and finish him. To do this, she must cross every line that an officer is expected to uphold and will even kill to find this man that has tormented her mind for decades.
I wanted to love this movie but damn it Destroyer is such a colossal disappointment. The most glaring problem is Nicole Kidman’s performance as Erin Bell which feels grossly misinformed. So many of her mannerisms come off as affected rather than an organic extension of understanding who Erin is. We’re meant to feel Erin is weathered and beaten down, but that never felt like reality to me; instead, I feel like I can see Kidman making choices as an actor which is something you never want to be visible on the screen.
It also doesn’t help that what should be a tightly wound contemporary noir picture feels awkward and clumsy with the elements of the story it chooses to focus on. While Erin is on this mission of pure rage to take down Silas, there’s a subplot about her teenage daughter spiraling out of control. In a pair of more skilled hands, I could see how a writer could thematically weave Erin and her daughter’s stories into parallel journies, but the final product doesn’t give enough development to either. The closure we get with the daughter feels underbaked and not in a good ambiguous way but more in the “we had to cut parts of this script down” way. I truly wanted the tragic and bleak parts of Erin’s story to come crashing down on the audience in the finale, but the movie sputters to its conclusion.
The flashbacks to Silas’ gang are also woefully thin and written with so much well-trod cliche. There’s a Russian roulette scene that I swear I’ve seen more than a dozen times in the last few years and has become bland shorthand for letting the viewers know a guy is evil and crazy. Silas never gets much more development than a handful of flashbacks, and this leaves the final confrontation between him and Erin to lack the emotional weight it should have had. That’s the way so much of the movie feels, as it trudges mechanically through its very procedural style storytelling, we lose the connection to Erin we need so that her ultimate conclusion would affect us in a meaningful way.
There are lots of great side performances from Toby Huss, Bradley Whitford, Scoot McNairy, and Tatiana Maslany. They appear to have had a day or two to shoot, so they have potent scenes and manage to get much character out of their small moments. What’s terrible is how much they end up highlighting how poor Kidman is doing as Bell. Whitford as a money laundering lawyer communicates so much precise information about his character that you want that person showing up more in the movie. Instead, we’re left with Kidman trying to play grizzled and due to a mix of poor writing and directing she falls flat. There is an excellent film in the parts and pieces of Destroyer they just got assembled incorrectly, and that is a huge shame.