Nicole Kidman delivers a performance like never before in this revenge thriller about a bank robbery gone wrong and a woman riddled with guilt about its consequences. In the Annapurna Pictures film Destroyer, we meet Detective Erin Bell who has a past that has haunted her so badly — that it has completely diminished her appearance, compromised her relationship with her daughter and led to chronic alcoholism.
The perpetually inebriated detective discovers a homicide scene along with a gun with no prints. Bell believes that she knows who is responsible for this murder and takes it on her own accord to investigate and track down the killer. A man by the name of Silas (Toby Kebbell) is her target and she will stop at nothing to find him. One of my favorite Nicole Kidman thrillers of all time is a 1989 Australian film called Dead Calm. The actress has had her fair share of intense psychological thrillers, but I believe Destroyer will be one of her most notable performances to date. Her delivery is gritty, unnerving and intense in every scene. It is Kidman’s character, Detective Bell that draws us in and gives us a reason as to why we should care.
However, this becomes the film’s fatal flaw.
Destroyer has a compelling story and mind-boggling plot — also be prepared to be taken through a maze only to discover The Usual Suspects story formula that will take you by surprise. However, the issue with the film is it takes too long to get there.
Nearly half of the film consists of flashback of Bell’s past that led to her trying to track down Silas. In these flashbacks, we learn that there was a sting operation coordinated around a bank robbery. However, things going terribly wrong and it is this catastrophic event that changes Bell’s life forever. The bank robbery team includes a ragtag team of miscreants led by Silas. One of them is a love interest to Bell by the name of Chris played by Sebastian Stan. It is this relationship that later becomes a turning point in the story. Chris is actually an informant working with Bell and the two spent months going undercover investigating these serial bank robbers.
The film takes us through Bell’s clues through a breadcrumb path of tracking down this suspected killer and through her clues we meet various people that we don’t really know much about nor really care about because the story is not about the tertiary characters, but it is more about Bell’s motives. One particular character, Dennis DiFranco (Bradley Whitford) enters the story as a man who launders money to Silas through a connect named Petra (Tatiana Maslany). Although his scene has its humorous moments it wasn’t quite needed and felt more like filler for an already slow-evolving story. The one thing to the scene did manage to convey that was of significance is the fact that Detective Bell can bust a guy’s head wide open using a soap dish. A unique skill that not every member of law enforcement has. I’ll also add that Tatiana Maslany’s talents were wasted in this film. The Orphan Black star who’s a force to be reckoned with as an incredibly gifted performer was barely an afterthought.
In other words, Destroyer takes its time in telling the audience what it wants to say and by the time we finally get to the point, we don’t care.
There’s also a bizarre scene with Bell when she’s trying to get a confession by a man named Toby (James Jordan), who was also a part of the bank heist and is now lying on his deathbed. He asks for a handjob in exchange for information and she consents. Watching a police officer do this during an interrogation is definitely nonsensical, but if you keep watching and see how the story unfolds at the end it inconceivably makes sense.
But that’s the point, it’s the waiting that makes this film staler than anything else and although I was satisfied with its ending and enjoyed the plot twist and turn of events, it wasn’t enough for me to care about Bell, Chris, her daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) or anyone else in this story. Her tempestuous relationship with her daughter is yet another downward spiral for Bell who can’t seem to get a handle on her.
Filmmaker Karyn Kusama does a great job of directing Kidman in this role, but the movie just doesn’t hold itself together. The pacing dragged scene by scene and the extraneous subplots were like adding too much oil to a cake and it inevitably breaks up and falls apart. This movie suffered the same fate as another groundbreaking performance last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Roman J. Israel featuring Denzel Washington as the title character. It too suffered the case of what happens to a good actor in a mediocre movie.
However, that may not necessarily be a bad thing for Kidman since Denzel did earn an Academy Award nomination for his role. The Oscars love actors who completely undergo metamorphosis from beauty to beast. The buzz is too early to tell, but we will see how it plays out.
Destroyer is currently screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.
For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Critics Choice Association.