In her new film, director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body) continues her tradition of portraying non-conforming women, but Destroyer is her most radical work to date. Kusama’s direction conveys a confronting vulnerability that is not often afforded to females within the mainstream film industry with the aid of leading actress Nicole Kidman. Kidman embraces harshness in the bleak crime drama Destroyer with compelling effect. As Erin Bell, a rogue, enervated detective working for the LAPD, languishing in regret over her failed case as an undercover agent, Kidman continues to explore roles in independent films as an established actress. Destroyer provides a refreshing portrayal of the overworked stereotypes of the gang vs cop dichotomy commonly featured in contemporary crime films.
The raw representation of Bell as a deeply flawed woman in each aspect of her life provides a subtle but profound critique of the trust placed in police officers as ‘keepers of the peace’ in society. Alternating between Bell’s current state and flashbacks of her time as an undercover agent, the line between criminal and cop, creates a uniquely confronting humanisation of police officers that does not conform to traditionally sympathetic narratives regarding the police force. The film continues to challenge the cop versus gang dichotomy by portraying the diversity of emotion in the legitimate members of the gang. In highlighting their guilt, shame and regret in their involvement in the criminal group, this film breaks from conforming to the often repeated two-dimensional representation of criminals as devoid of humanity.
Featuring iconic 90’s desert rock songs from Kyuss and Sleep within the soundtrack, the atmospheric desert California setting comes alive. Yet the consistently desolate colour palette of the film visually conveys the subtle nihilism of Destroyer, depicting the rawest aspects of the human experience. Viewing becomes a visceral experience, and Bell’s feelings of desperation and exhaustion lap over you like waves.
However, in attempting to capture the complete humanity of Bell, the film is overly ambitious. The vignettes within a certain subplot, whilst effective, can also be overly long and indulgent at times. In addition, the villain Silas (Toby Kebbell) is a relatively two dimensional and simplistic character, in stark contrast to the refreshing complexity afforded to Bell.
Ultimately, Destroyer is an unapologetically authentic film which confronts the audiences preconceived ideas through its refusal to conform to tropes so commonly adhered to within the crime genre.