Review: 'Destroyer', Nicole Kidman Elevates A Familiar Cop Drama

We've grown so accustomed to Nicole Kidman's startling transformations that, for much of Karyn Kusama's grimy, captivating cop drama Destroyer, we don't really register it. Buried under greying, stringy hair that looks like it hasn't been washed in a month, a twisted nose, and the cracked skin of someone twice her age, Kidman is virtually unrecognizable. Been there, and done that, right? She's won Oscars for undergoing such startling transformations. But it's not until we see her character, troubled LAPD cop Erin Bell, in earlier and less disheveled times, that we realize the depth of what it all means.

While it's obvious right from the start that Erin has been rode hard and put up wet, her younger self is beautiful, naïve, and eager. It's a deadly combination that we know, based on the circular nature of Kusama's direction, will have life-changing consequences both physically and emotionally. Our need to understand how a woman like Erin got to this point is what sustains us through a pedestrian story about a cop on the edge.

Erin lives up to the movie's title in words and action right from the start. She's more than just rough around the edges, she's got some serious issues. Upon the discovery of a dead body of someone she seems to recognize, Erin doesn't hesitate to tell the assisting cops that she can solve the murder, yet ignores their pleas for help. Instead, she broods until the delivery of a purple-dyed $100 bill confirms her suspicions. Erin's life hasn't been the same since her encounter with the unhinged Silas (Toby Kebbell) sixteen years earlier, during an undercover assignment that would end tragically. Knowing that Silas has emerged out of hiding, Erin takes it upon herself to confront him, but to do that she'll need to work through members of his old gang, and relive painful memories.

It should go without saying that Erin goes off the rails in her mission, going well beyond proper police procedure on numerous occasions. Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi heap a world of troubles on Erin's shoulders to see if she can bear the weight. Flashbacks take us through the events of the case, as she and partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) pose as a couple to infiltrate Silas' inner circle. As often happens, both get in way too deep and it has violent consequences. In the present, Erin is also dealing with her 16-year-old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who she's lost custody of and has to watch make the same mistakes she made.

Any hour-long cop drama offers up the same shitty personal details that Erin suffers through, but Kidman has us gripped from the moment she first appears on screen. Throughout we see her slowly unveiling new layers to Erin, some which have us sympathizing with her, and others that are pretty disgusting. In one scene with a horny terminally ill informant we see the humiliating lengths Erin will go to get what she needs, while in another she takes out her aggression on a rich prick (played a little too perfectly by Bradley Whitford) when he stonewalls her investigation. A heartbreaking dinner conversation between Erin and Selby turns into an impromptu mea culpa that will leave you stunned, considering all that we've seen her do up to that point.

While Kidman is the star of this show, her supporting cast is excellent, in particular Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany as Silas' wildcard ex-girlfriend, Petra. Maslany undergoes a physical makeover as drastic as Kidman's, to the point that I had no idea who she was until I looked at the credits. Had me completely fooled.

It's a shame that Kidman's mostly being overlooked this awards season because of Destroyer's mixed response, but that she is so able to elevate such familiar material makes her performance all the more extraordinary.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5