quarantine stream destroyer

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Destroyer

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: A near-unrecognizable Nicole Kidman is a hard-boiled cop haunted by a violent tragedy in her past.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: It still boggles my mind that Destroyer seemed to come and go without much attention. The film has a meager 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and was ultimately a box office bomb. And yet…I’m going to go ahead and throw the word “masterpiece” out there. Because that’s what this is. Director Karyn Kusama brings a mix of unbearable tension and melancholy pathos, crafting a harsh, brutal LA noir flick that features one of Nicole Kidman’s very best performances.

“I’m mad. I’m still fucking mad. It’s burned a circuit in my brain.” So says Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), a hollowed-out, sun-burned mess of a human being. Erin is more or less confessing to her estranged, volatile daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), pleading with her; begging her to not grow up to be a miserable, angry mess she herself has become.

Destroyer is a bleak, often brutal film. There’s nothing rosy here, and Kidman goes to hell and back throughout the course of the narrative. Kidman has already well-established her talent, and her name often lends a certain credibility to whatever she’s attached to. As a result, it seems like almost a cliche to point out how good she is, but make no mistake: she’s really good here. Some coverage of the film focused on the heavy make-up burying Kidman’s face, making her look bruised and broken. But there’s more to the film than that.

In fact, there are two simultaneous narratives. Jumping back and forth in time, director Karyn Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, follow Erin in the present day, when she’s a hard-drinking, hard-living mess, and also a serious of flashbacks to a big case Erin was working on that went terribly wrong. In these flashbacks, Kidman looks more like herself, and we watch as Erin goes undercover with another cop, Chris (Sebastian Stan). The two strike up a romantic relationship, all the while trying to not give themselves away to the violent gang they’re now embedded with. The gang is lead by Silas (Toby Kebbell), a total psychopath who clearly has his suspicions about the pair.

Eventually, the two narratives collide, and along the way, Kusama sticks close to Kidman. The actress is in virtually every frame of the film, and she commands the screen with her blunt, raw performance. This isn’t Kidman simply dirtying herself up for the hell of it; she throws herself completely into Erin’s fractured, furious mind. When she delivers her speech about how “fucking mad” she is we can feel the anger radiating off the screen.

Destroyer isn’t an action flick, although there is a tense, pulse-pounding shootout that gives way to a brutal fistfight. Beyond that, though, it’s more of a slow-burn mystery, and perhaps that’s what threw people off. Perhaps people were hoping for a cops-and-robbers style flick and were disappointed at what’s essentially a character drama. Or perhaps I’m just a complete weirdo for thinking this is one of the best movies of the last five years even though most people seemed to have ignored it.

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