20 Mar 2019

Review – Destroyer: Nicole Kidman cuts loose as an ex-cop in freefall

From At The Movies, 7:31 pm on 20 March 2019

Australia's favourite daughter gives an astonishing performance in Karyn Kusama's award-nominated film Destroyer, says Simon Morris.

 Australia's favourite daughter is making a big stir with her astonishing performance in the Golden Globe-nominated film Destroyer, with some saying it's her best performance to date.

It's certainly very different from what we'd expect from her.

But is the world ready for Dirty Harriet?

Over the years, I confess I've had mixed feelings about Nicole Kidman. Despite her obvious appeal - I'm also told she's one of the nicest people in the business - I kept feeling I was watching acting going on.

But recently she's turned in some knockout performances - notably in Secret in Their Eyes and Lion.

In Destroyer, acting once again makes its presence felt.

The structure of the film is one of those too-clever by about three-quarters, time-travel, flash-back thrillers.

It opens on a bleary shot of a punch-drunk Nicole, reeling after yet another night out.

She's Erin Bell, a once hotshot LA cop who burned out spectacularly after… well, after something happened.

You think you've seen burn-outs before, often played by Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson? They're lightweights compared with Erin Bell.

Bell staggers out of her Crap-mobile because she sees a police investigation going on by the aqueduct.

Is she a drunken passer-by? No, it seems she's still on the payroll, though her colleagues aren't expecting much in the way of forensic insights.

But this is just the start, and as is often the case in thrillers like this, much of Destroyer is in the back-story.

Stand by for flash-backs - and not just the occasional woozy memory. These are industrial-strength flash-backs like the bewildering Memento, starring fellow Australian Guy Pearce.

And we're following more than one time-line here - a trend that's becoming as common as it is often irritating.

First we take Erin back to her first big under-cover job, where she has to pretend to be the girlfriend of colleague, Chris, played by Captain America's Sebastian Stan.

Erin and Chris are investigating a gang of brutal bank-robbers, led by a borderline psychotic played by Toby Kebbell, who as far as I know has never played anything else. Even in Planet of the Apes he was the bad egg.

Something clearly went on during that ill-fated operation. But our visits to that part of the past are so brief and fragmented that it's hard to keep tabs on what happened and how it affected Erin's grip on reality.

Meanwhile another strand of the past is unraveling and needs attending to - Erin's relationship with her daughter Shelby, who's clearly going off the rails.

This is hardly surprising, we're told, with the example she's been set by her mother.

During these conversations, we flash back to events in mother and daughter's lives, then to mother and her mother's life - Erin's own mum was even worse than Erin, apparently.

We also regularly flash back to Chris and Erin's adventures playing with bankrobbers, trying to piece together where it all went wrong… Oh, and investigating that murder at the start of the film, remember?

And all the time we're peering at Nicole Kidman, half-fascinated, half-repulsed by her makeup job.

How could her face look such a car-wreck while keeping her figure as trim and model-like as ever?

And more to the point, what's with that voice?

It's part Clint Eastwood with a hangover, part the Wicked Witch in the old Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - all presumably in aid of the proposition that if we enjoy watching male burnt-out cops, then why wouldn't we go for a female version?

No reason at all, I suppose, but it's a big "if".

My own level of burnt-out former-cop tolerance tends to stop at Humphrey Bogart, or Jack Nicolson in Chinatown.

To paraphrase a fake Australian - Robert Downey Junior in Tropic Thunder - I think Nicole Kidman is guilty of going "full burnt-out" rather than Hollywood burnt-out.

Never go full burnt-out, Nicole. Not even for the Golden Globes.

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