Destroyer tells the story of Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), an LAPD officer who, in her youth, went undercover to infiltrate a gang in the desolation of the California desert. Traumatized by the experience, Bell presently continues to work as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department despite her overwhelming guilt. However, when the leader of that gang suddenly resurfaces, Erin embarks on a mission to find his former associates, bring him to justice while coming face to face with her past life.
Directed by Karen Karusama, Destroyer is a slow burn of a thriller, equally compelling and vexing. By boldly breaking down her narrative structure, Karusama creates an plays with the past in a way that informs the present. While this can prove frustrating at first, the film gradually unravels in a way that validates her approach. As Detective Bell, Kidman is virtually unrecognizable, fully immersing herself into the seedy underbelly of a bleak and hopeless environment. Known for her dramatic flair, it is this role that reveals her true range as an actress as she plays Bell with a surprising but desolate fury. In what could be a potentially career-defining role, this is Kidman at her very best and wildest.
Stepping into the darkness of the bleak Los Angeles heat, Destroyer highlights a world where evil marks everything in its path. Criminals can’t escape their past, even if they want to. The integrity of the police is flexible. In a world overrun by shadows, no one is safe from the stain of sin. Struggling to get through each day, Bell becomes the very picture of brokenness as she allows the demons of her past to unleash her inner demons. Unlike other characters who fight to free to themselves from their past, Bell has allowed herself to be completely swallowed by it. While her intentions start out well, she is slowly contaminated by her environment. As she descends into the underworld, the lines between good and evil become blurred and Bell’s judgment is compromised irreparably. Even in the present, Bell bears the scars of her past in ways that prevent her from escaping it. Despite the fact that she’s gotten out, she has never truly broken free.
Admittedly, hope in this world is hard to find. Interestingly, there is a glimmer of possibility through the eyes of Bell’s daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn). Even if she too is feeling the pull towards the darkness, Bell’s most redeeming quality is that she hopes her daughter “will be [a] better [person] than she is”. Through the character of Shelby, Karusama allows the viewer to believe that—maybe—there is a chance to break the cycle of pain and suffering in the future. Despite the bleak atmosphere, Shelby represents the opportunity to move forward and escape, provided she can learn from her mother’s mistakes
Playing out as an intense hybrid of Chinatown and Breaking Bad, Destroyer unleashes a world where everyone is tainted by culture’s pervasive evil. Buoyed by powerful performances and confident direction, the film gives itself the freedom to unfurl its narrative with boiling intensity.
Destroyer is in theatres now.