17 years after a bank robbery gone wrong, an alcoholic, ethically-compromised LAPD officer tracks down the man who orchestrated the crime. As she does so, we learn about her relationship with her partner while she was undercover. We learn about her relationship with her daughter in the present. And, most importantly, we learn that when she sets her mind on something, nothing will stop her; not bullets, not bruises, not anything.
Destroyer is a difficult film to watch, but one that, like First Reformed and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, is so well-shot, so thematically interesting, and so terrifically acted that it more than makes up for it’s dower tone and 2 hour plus runtime. People have singled out Nicole Kidman for praise, and rightfully so, since she’s virtually unrecognizable as this disgusting, battered, boozy detective, but the truth is, literally everyone in this flick is fantastic, and gets at least one scene where they’re allowed to shine. Bradley Whitford, for instance, shows up in one scene as a smarmy lawyer who launders money for the head bank robber, and he brings so much energy and life to this small role that he almost steals the movie away from Kidman. Similarly, Sebastian Stan does a terrific job acting as Kidman’s partner in various flashbacks. Their conversations wherein they quiz each other on their cover stories are easily some of my favorite bits from the movie. The technical side of this film, particularly the cinematography, editing, and make-up, is also quite impressive. There are several scenes that take place in the past, and feature tons of close-ups on Kidman’s face, and you really believe that she’s younger. You never once think, “this is a 51 year old actor wearing makeup.” And there’s a fantastic, and I mean fantastic, shootout that takes place during a bank heist. It was intense, the stakes were high, the geography of the scene was clear, and the shots were stitched together well. It might be the best bank shootout since Heat, and that’s saying something. I’ve got to give props to the director, and fellow NYU grad, Karyn Kusama, for making this movie look as good as it does.
Now, as much as I liked this film, I can totally see why people would hate it. It’s more than 2 hours long, and very, very sad. That, coupled with the confusing, nonlinear storytelling, is my biggest knock against the movie. The tone never varies. There’s never a moment of humor or levity. It’s just an unrelentingly grim tale of sorrow and despair. And like I said, the story is told out of order, with certain events taking place in different timelines, and various episodes you saw in one instance later being revealed to have happened completely differently, so It does get confusing after a while. There are also a few strange stylistic choices, like several slow motion shots of skateboarders, which feel like symbolism I don’t understand. Still, the fantastic acting, intriguing story, and excellent shootout do make this a difficult, but worthwhile, watch. Make of this what you will.