Telluride Review: ‘Destroyer’ Delivers an Outstanding Nicole Kidman Performance

2018 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: In Karyn Kusama‘s “Destroyer,” Nicole Kidman stars as a declining police detective who reconnects with the people who were involved in an undercover assignment that derailed her life.

Set in a neo-noir Los Angeles, Kidman plays Erin Bell, a sleuth who is challenged by the demons in her past. When those demons resurface, Bell becomes consumed with avenging the loss of her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), in order to release some of the guilt and anguish that has weighed her down through the years. Her career and the relationship she has with her daughter (Jade Pettyjohn) are both deteriorating, and she is hellbent on seeking redemption and retribution.

Through flashbacks, we learn about her undercover assignment, how deep she got in the case as well as with Chris, and how things eventually fell apart. Weaving in and out of her memories, we find present-day Bell working to track down Silas (Toby Kebbell), the leader of the gang that she infiltrated who has now resurfaced. The trail leads to several egregious characters, including DiFranco, a sleazy lawyer played by Bradley Whitford, and Petra, a burned-out former lover of Silas portrayed by Tatiana Maslany. As the trail heats up, we learn more about the fateful decisions Bell has made that has filled her life with an overwhelming sense of regret, and why she is so determined to bring Silas in at any cost.

“Destroyer” is a quirky and violent film that feels inconsistent in its approach. There are a few good components going on in the film, most notably Kidman’s brilliant and harrowed performance. As many great actors often show, she has such an ornate ability to express high-level intensity and ferocity with her eyes alone. Kusama asks a lot out of Kidman with the way the character is written, and the Oscar-winning actress (“The Hours,” 2002) is more than up to the challenge.

Where the film falters quite a bit is in its script. It is often hard to follow, and at times feels like it goes in directions completely unnecessary to the story (the entire storyline surrounding ex-husband/boyfriend played by Scoot McNairy, for example). We are taken down paths that are never explained, and therefore feel irrelevant and a detraction to the main story.

I am also amazed by just how bad the makeup is in this film. It is perilously distracting, and it is inconceivable that no one was able to improve this craft before final cuts were made. In fact, it is the first thing that I (and a few others at the festival) noticed in the first image from the movie (above). It is an even further testament to Kidman that she is able to disappear so well in the role despite the miscalculated makeup.

Kidman carries the often out of tune “Destroyer” through its ups and downs. She is always a joy to behold, with a range that continues to amaze. I only wish the film was able to live up to her performance.

“Destroyer” is distributed by Annapurna Pictures, and opens on Dec. 25.

GRADE: (★★½)

Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where “Destroyer” ranks among the contenders!