by George Wolf
Nicole Kidman got no Oscar love this year, which gives you some clue as to how many great performances we saw from women in 2018.
Her nuanced supporting turn in Boy Erased was certainly worthy, but Destroyer, released in select cities early enough for consideration, served up a menu that seemed more tailor-made for selection. She’s a major star playing way against type, she goes full anti-glamour and yep, she’s damn good.
Kidman is Erin Bell, a police detective who looks, and acts, like death warmed over. When Erin and her hangover crash the crime scene of a newly discovered dead body, the local cops can mask their condescension with only the thinnest veil of respect.
But Erin knows more than they do about how this guy got dead, and director Karyn Kusama plays a gritty hand juggling the shifting timelines that will lead to Erin’s connection with the stiff, and to the roots of her frayed psyche.
Fans of HBO’s True Detective will feel right at home. Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who both teamed with Kusama for The Invitation and Aeon Flux, alternate between past and present to slowly reveal the details of an old case that led to Erin’s breakdown. She and partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) were deep undercover with a gang of bank thieves led by the slimy Silas (Toby Kebbell), and as Erin and Chris mixed business with pleasure, the lines separating their realities began to blur.
Kusama keeps up a knowingly effective pace, dropping just enough breadcrumbs to keep you interested until the twist reveal she’s sitting on. Of course, she’s also got Kidman’s range to lean on, occasionally forgetting it doesn’t need that much help getting noticed.
Kidman, with help from extensive makeup artistry, takes Erin from fresh faced ambition to grizzled hopelessness. Scattershot attempts to reconcile with her reckless daughter (Jade Pettyjohn) add emotional layers, and it’s only when Kusama pushes the melodramatic envelope that Destroyer seems overly desperate for us to appreciate its anti-heroine.
She doesn’t need that push. The film delivers a satisfying payoff to its slow burn, and Oscar nomination or not, Kidman crafts a transformative character arc that’s worth your attention.