Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scoot McNairy, Toby Huss, Zach Villa, James Jordan, Beau Knapp, Shamier Anderson
Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use
Running Time: 123
Date: 12/25/2018

Destroyer (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Ones She Loves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Driven by a forceful, demolishing performance by Nicole Kidman, and a deliriously complex, snaky screenplay, this mature, intricately-designed crime drama is more memorable, more haunting, than most.

In Destroyer, bedraggled LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) arrives on the scene of a murder, and notices a familiar clue, bills from a bank robbery stained with pink dye. She goes looking for a man named Silas (Toby Kebbell), a bank robber and possible murderer. We learn through flashbacks that, almost two decades earlier, Erin worked undercover alongside a partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), infiltrating Silas's mob.

She visits those ex-members, one by one, looking for clues, but progress is slow, and her course is dangerous. Meanwhile, her 16 year-old daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), has been acting up, spending time with lowlife boys, and, though she wants to help, her parenting skills are not exactly polished. Ultimately, Erin realizes that her entire existence is predicated on a single act of revenge.

Directed by Karyn Kusama and co-written by her husband Phil Hay and his writing partner Matt Manfredi — they all made the excellent thriller The InvitationDestroyer could have been a simple, awards-season showcase for Kidman's talents. She ages from luminous, youthful beauty to a walking, dried-out wreck, her face hardened and crusted, and her narrow eyes reflecting agony and suspicion. It's an astonishing piece of work, but refreshingly, she is supported by, and part of, an equally impressive movie.

Destroyer has plenty of secrets, and it'd be a shame to give any of them away, but it contains many moments of gnashing suspense and gripping bittersweet. The movie's use of light and shadow turns Los Angeles into a modern world of film noir, from desolate, graffiti-tagged slabs of buildings, to a slash of diagonal shadow under the bridge where Erin first appears. The intense sound design grabs everyday noises and twists them into a cacophony.

But when not moving the plot forward and generating suspense and mystery, the movie zeroes in on Erin's character, her painful attempts to connect with her daughter, and the heartbreaking story of how she simply lost everything. Destroyer is a dark film, and it's not a casual viewing, but it's unforgettable.

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