US | 2018 | Directed by Karyn Kasama
Logline: A troubled police detective reconnects with people from an old and unfinished undercover assignment in order to make peace with herself.
After several years of television work Kasama returns with her follow up feature to The Invitation with a terrific crime thriller featuring Nicole Kidman in the utterly deglamorised role of a disheveled, barely functioning law enforcer on the trail of the scumbag that slipped through her fingers. Destroyer is a hard road to redemption.
Erin Bell (Kidman) is an LAPD detective still shell-shocked from events ten years earlier, when, as an undercover with a gang in the Cali desert, her assigned job went tragically pear-shaped. Now, with a John Doe sprawled in the floodway, Bell has to trace her way back through the remaining figures involved, and dig into her own damaged history, including attempting to re-connect with her estranged teenage daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn).
Phil Hay and Matt Mandredi’s screenplay weaves in and out of the present and the past creating a kind of narrative jigsaw. It’s a slow burner, like many of the notable neo-noirs. The issues I had with character motivation, especially two of Bell’s most crucial decisions, were outweighed by Kasama’s attention to mood and performance. Kidman has delivered better work, most notably in the series Big Little Lies, but this is still a solid role, and she rises to the occasion.
Along with Pettyjohn, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, and Scoot McNairy all provide excellent support. If there’s one thing Kasama achieves brilliantly, it’s casting. She has Scorsese’s Midas touch.
Julie Kirkwood, who provided Oz Perkins with beautiful cinematography for February and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, gives the City of Angels and its immediate surrounds the kind of desolate, sunburned glow that mirrors the protagonist’s jaded, desperate soul. From the get go it’s obvious this story isn’t going to pan out so well for Bell. The movie’s title spells things out fairly clearly.
Theodore Shapiro’s score pulsates with intent; it’s a superb accompaniment to Bell’s quest, punctuating her attack and defense with dramatic intensity.
I’m reminded of one of my very favourite neo-noirs, Romeo Is Bleeding, with Gary Oldman in a role not entirely dissimilar to Kidman’s. They are wounded animals clutching on the present by way of the past, destined to become prey to their own guilt and misfortune. We watch with morbid curiosity as they spiral downward. This is what makes noir so damn special, especially when it’s directed so well.