A rumor has gone around Hollywood actresses, that in order to get awards attention you have to make yourself ugly. This seemed to be a pattern with the Oscars awarded to Charlize Theron for Monster and Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball. The most recent attempt to attract attention from an ugly transformation comes from Nicole Kidman in Destroyer.
Destroyer is a mystery noir film about a downtrodden and alcoholic LA detective named Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman). She’s given up caring for herself or her daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), but when a body shows up with purple-stained hundred-dollar bills, Erin’s past comes back to haunt her.
This was Karyn Kusama’s return to the big screen after a successful stint in TV (Halt and Catch Fire, Billions, The Man in the High Castle), and the New York native brings about her very unique visual style to the film, it adds a flavor to what would otherwise have been a very bland story. Kidman also gives a strong lead performance, giving depth to a character that otherwise seemed to be written as very one-note. In fact, if one factored out Kidman, the entire movie falls apart; she is the scotch-tape holding the entire production together.
Kusama has had bad luck in her recent films, with Destroyer and Jennifer’s Body being bogged down by sloppy writing and editing. In Destroyer we have two cores of the story that are never brought to full fruition and are left half-assed. One is the actual mystery of the film, and the other is the emotional character study of Erin. We have many nods and winks to what the story might culminate in, but then these are forgotten and abandoned.
None of the populating supporting characters stick to audiences, vanishing from our memory the moment they exit from screen. That’s not for a lack of talent, the film was able to bring in the likes of Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan, and Tatiana Maslany along for the ride. But the poor writing results in that you never really care for any of the characters, let alone our lead. Erin was a role that was clearly written for a man, but was given to an adept Kidman instead. Thus the Australian is left with a raw-knuckled character that wallows in her own self-misery without inciting much sympathy from the audience.
The editing was also surprisingly inept. The plot revolves around bank heists, murders, and undercover cops, and yet the film is cut in such a way that the story is slowed down to a crawl. Some scenes are elongated more than they should be, others go by too fast; the overall feeling is one of chaos. Added that the script was written extremely vaguely, and you have half the audience squinting at the screen trying to figure out what is going on. The result is that the film feels much longer than it actually is, and since you have no sympathy for any of the characters and their fates, it corners you to stare at your watch.
Kusama and Kidman deserved a more complete film, and their talents could have brought about a true spectacle with a proper script. However, some sloppy editing and an indecisive story bog down the talent so that the film will simply be remembered as: “the one Nicole Kidman was ugly in.”