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This movie has made me think a lot about other L.A. cop movies, especially corrupt cop movies. I used to think they were trashy fun, but now, I question them. 

Yeah, and I was going to say, so why do you think it’s entertaining to you?

I don’t know, just that world feels cinematic, but now I wonder if movies about corrupt cops should be made as trashy entertainment. That’s not what this movie is, but when you make a movie about a cop, or in this case a detective, how much do you have to think about how some audiences perceive law enforcement? 

Well, that’s such an interesting question, because to me, that was the reason I made the movie, was that we’re watching a person … I thought of it less as a cop movie, and more about positions of power and the idea that we watch a person who has the power of the badge, the power of the gun, the power of a department behind her, even when she’s clearly a wreck, and even when her own co-workers are saying, “You’re in trouble,” and don’t seem to respect her all that much. The position itself lent her a lot of power, and to recognize that there was this systematic abuse of that power that starts way back actually.

It’s not like we’ve seen her curdle into someone corrupt. We’ve actually seen her … You realize after the film is over, she’s been corrupt for a long time, and the corruption is actually killing her. It’s like eating away at her soul. And that was really interesting to me because I do feel like right now in the world we’re living in we’d have to be blind to say that we’re not in a blatantly corrupt period politically and institutionally.

Something very profound is happening, where people who revel in their corruption and their crime, and their crimes, keep ascending to the highest levels of power. And so, for me, I needed to tell a story that was I hope about the very real cost of that to an individual, that though we love crime movies, and we love these dirty cop movies, because I think we are ultimately a nation that grapples with its desire to just get away with it, we can’t get away with it anymore.

Even if people in power keep getting away with it, there is a cost to everyone if we keep seeing criminals get away with their crimes. And so, that’s honestly what drove me to tell the story is that I didn’t know how to make that movie an actual movie about politics, but those are my politics, if that makes sense.

That makes me think of Bradley Whitford’s character. What do you think about his worldview? It’s very on point with what you’re saying.

It’s true, and you know what? There’s something really interesting because I know people who for the longest time have pretty much said to me, “Here’s the secret to success: get over it, move on. Get over yourself by subscribing to this larger universe of self involvement, and then you get everything you want.” And there’s something about it that … It’s not that I believed it, but that I saw the value of moving on.

And now, I feel like he utters those words and they send a chill up my spine, because it can sound effortlessly kind of right, and then if you really think about it, but can we get over our crimes? Can we get over our own misdeeds? If the answer is no, we have to deal with it. And what I love about that scene is that’s on second viewing, a moment where I feel like we might be looking at her a little differently, because we understand now that in some ways she’s as much of a criminal as he is. And so, what are those words meaning to her? We think she’s hanging on because she’s obsessed with catching a killer, but she’s hanging on because she’s obsessed with killing a killer, and that’s a different thing in my opinion.

Whitford delivers maybe my favorite line of the year that has a zip to it like great crime movie dialogue: “You played cops and robbers, and you lost. Big.” 

[Laughs] Totally, it’s our little like, “Hello, Point Break.” Or yeah, hello, one of those bigger kind of like more mainstream sort of classics of the era. We definitely had those moments where we’re like, “You know what? Some characters can be allowed to have ingested a little bit of the pulpiness for themselves.”

How much stylization did you want with Destroyer, or did you always want to keep it grounded?

It is about sort of character by character in a way. I think that we had agreed that DiFranco (Whitford) could be almost a cliché of himself, and that, that we could still get away with that, and that perhaps in the happening stuff between Chris and Bell, when they’re rehearsing their identities it could feel like it had that sort of hard boiled snap. I ultimately was hoping that we find a lot of moments that felt real, and I hope that we do.

It’s funny, movies like this have to impart a lot of information. And so, on the script level on the page, that’s a big challenge is to make sure enough of the crucial information is getting imparted, and then in the edit, once I’m working with actual scenes and sequences figuring out how much an audience can still understand and figure out what the minimum amount is and still hang on emotionally then that’s kind of the next level of sort of refining that tonal thing between pulp versus realism and that kind of thing.

When you were filming Nicole Kidman, and just saw how she walked and talked in front of the camera, how did her presence maybe influence how you wanted to film her? 

What was great is that even through the process of her transformation inside and out into that character she remains incredibly … well, I think she becomes even more charismatic in a way, like taking away the movie star element of her, to me, paradoxically reveals what a movie star she actually is, because I just needed to keep looking at her. And I got a call from my editor as we were shooting, and she said, “I’m putting the footage together, and I just gotta say, I feel like you want to be looking at her, and that’s gonna dictate everything within the cut, because there’s something … ”

Plummy, my editor, was completely right that, in a way, in all of those moments where I might’ve strayed a little bit away to sort of see a bigger world, or get a better sense of certain ancillary characters, it’s not that you lost interest, but you were sort of still looking around the corner like, “When is she coming back?” And so, that was very interesting to recognize midway through the process.

Of course, my hope would’ve been that any actor would’ve commanded that kind of charisma, but in fact, it was Nicole Kidman, so I have to sort of bow down and show my respects to the fact that, that I think all of her experience and knowledge with her own craft kind of lent itself toward this character who could be quite brutal, and conflicted, and disturbing, and damaged, but still radiate a sense of like taking up space and sort of saying, “I know when I walk in a room, I know where people are looking,” even though there’s some part of the character’s conception as she was doing it that was trying to retreat.

It’s like Nicole can’t do that. You know? And so, there was a really interesting tension between being in a weird way the elephant in the room and being this more recessive emotional character. It holds a lot of power, and I think that’s why we like these restrained shut down characters in film is because you lean in wanting more information. It’s like you fall in love with the person who doesn’t give you love, that kind of thing.

Yeah, I think you enjoy the mystery of it, and you’ve talked before about ’70s movies you loved that can put you in a haze, where you can’t quite put your finger on why you’re responding to it the way that you are. 


And Destroyer has a similar mood and feeling to it. Would you say those movies that were very influential to you were ever inspiring while making Destroyer? 

Yeah, it’s funny, there was this formative period probably between like 1966 and 1982, where I would say there were movies that just felt like a guiding principle wasn’t answering the questions of human behavior, but highlighting its mystery. I think of a movie like Klute, or The Parallax View, particularly, The Parallax View, where you watch a big movie star play the kind of the hero, but the way he behaves makes you wonder if you should even feel that, and that was part of the mystery of the experience, is he is being used, and he doesn’t even recognize the degree to which he is being used, and there’s something tricky about him as a character.

That’s so interesting that none of us are masters of our own universe, but we love the fantasy of that. And so, I think when movies push into the discomfort of kind of pulling back our like the curtain on our fallibility on our flaws on our worst instincts, which is a big part of what drove me to make Destroyer, is I think she’s so flawed, and hungry, and motivated by greed to a degree. And that is her undoing.

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