Netflix UK film review: Destroyer
James R | On 21, Nov 2019
Director: Karyn Kusama
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Tony Kebbell
Watch Destroyer online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Every year, a notable film that’s expected to make an impact in the awards race slips through the cracks. In 2019, that unlucky fate befell Destroyer, a movie that deserves much better.
Nicole Kidman delivers a blistering turn in this crime drama, a story so hard-boiled it makes Raymond Chandler look like Barney the Dinosaur. She plays Erin, a weathered, worn-down, wreck of a detective whom we first meet at a murder scene where she has a hunch who might be responsible. And so she begins to investigate a gang of bank robbers, tracking down members one at a time to find the answers she wants. It’s a gruelling slog of an investigation, one that only leads to further moral corruption and dark decisions; after her first trade-off to curry information from a terminally ill criminal, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a cheerful movie.
Director Karyn Kusama stares that bleak misery right in the face – literally in the case of the opening shot, a close-up of Erin’s face with its grimy, hardened features. And that doesn’t let up throughout the two-hour runtime. In another filmmaker’s hands, that relentlessly grim mood might become frustrating or tedious, but Kusama is a master of mood; where her horror The Invitation was anchored in a growing awkwardness and unease, Destroyer rides the wave of anxiousness with a clinical precision. A shootout partway through is limited to her perspective to dizzyingly immediate effect, while the plot structure is as fragmented as her own memories, never letting us get away from her brittle mental state.
It gradually becomes clear that this mercer is linked to a robbery from years ago, when Erin and her former partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), were undercover in that same gang, following orders from its leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell). Erin’s determination to drag out every last detail keeps us going through the maze of revelations and moral decline; the only thing Erin seems more driven to do than crack the case is drive herself into the ground along with it.
It’s a brutally magnetic performance from an actress at the top of her game, an uncompromising, unblinking window onto a compellingly black soul – in this woman’s fatalistic existence, even her demons have demons. The result might not have won awards, but Destroyer’s victory, perhaps, is being too dark to win voters’ hearts. It’s a tough film to love, and a hard one to watch, but it’s most definitely one more people should be talking about.
Destroyer is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.