Karyn Kusama’s latest film, Destroyer, is a tale rife with revenge and shot up with pain, slowly simmering with rage, heartbreak, and sometimes, love. Perhaps best known for Jennifer’s Body, the 2009 horror film starring Megan Fox as a possessed teenager, Kusama’s women are ruthless, unforgiving, and unpredictable. It’s no surprise that Nicole Kidman’s Erin Bell follows in their footsteps.
Bell’s assignment as an undercover LAPD detective infiltrating a gang ultimately cost her not only the mission but her partner and love, Chris (Sebastian Stan). Her involvement causes an aftershock that ripples through her life and those around her for years to come. The gang they targeted runs free, while Bell is left with the guilt of not choosing another path and a daughter she can hardly raise. Now the leader has come out of hiding and she must work through her past in order to heal her present.
The narrative flashes back every now and then from the present to well over a decade ago. Erin’s gaunt and grey face is gone, her weariness erased with the brightness that comes with being young and also, in love. Her greyed hair is now brown, her cheeks red, an ease is in her step, a playfulness. While the time spent with her in the past feels more like shocks of memory, glimpses into what was, Kusama creates a jarring correlation as we witness what time and tragedy have done to this woman once back in present day. She’s been working as a cop at the LAPD, but when it’s made clear that the unfinished business of her past is calling her back into the ring, it’s as if a flame has been laid at the end of a dynamite stick and the fuse has begun to burn. And boy, do we watch Kidman start to explode. There’s a case to close and cells to be filled, better yet, targets to be hit. It’s time for a reckoning and Erin knows which side will pay. As she decides to do her own detective work off the clock, much to the dismay of her co-workers, she juggles attempting to mend things with her now teenage and estranged daughter with tracing a path to the leader of the gang through old contacts.
Kidman not only transforms physically but thoroughly into Bell. The brittleness and heartbreak that hangs over her character hits you full throttle and continuously steeps over the course of the film. Her steps are heavy, rigid, her scowl ever present, as is the determined and desperate look in her eye to set things right. A Golden Globe nomination, although not won, was well earned. Although a cop, Bell isn’t your typical hero, bravely bursting in to save the day, dodging hits and smoothly approaching the scene. She’s messy, unpredictable, and will fall down twice before getting back up with even more fervor than should be allowed for someone so unstable. She’s strong, but she’s deteriorating. She’s akin to the “male anti-hero” we’ve witnessed – scrappy, breath still thick with liquor, slickly dressed in black and wiping the blood off their chins as they reach into their pocket for another bullet. From the start, as we watch her make her way down the road to a crime scene, drudging along, wincing at the sun, we know it’s going to be a painful, bumpy ride.
Kidman’s performance is what holds Destroyer together, there is no doubt of her brilliance. But the distracting age shifts (through makeup and wigs) and structural choices left me wanting more. Something lacks, it doesn’t have the punch it could, but maybe that’s the point. Yet, the plot twist at the end of the film was simple, unexpected and tightly closed the story off. It’s worth a venture into this dark and rugged tale for Kidman’s performance alone.
In a year that captured many female characters who were not only complex but “unlikeable” or the anti-heroine of their stories, I’m glad we can add Erin Bell, our Destroyer to the list.
What other female characters from films in 2018 would you add? Tell us in the comments below.
Destroyer is now showing in select cinemas