DestroyerReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/15/19 15:18:28
"Destroyer" is a little better than the award-seeking gimmicks that show up front and center, but not by that much. The filmmakers tell their story of cynical cops and robbers well enough, but don't find a compelling reason to tell this particular story; there's a quick thrill as things click together in the end, but not quite to the point where one wants to go back and reconsider everything longer one is supposed to.Seventeen years ago, LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) went undercover with a federal agent (Sebastian Stan) to crack a ring of bank robbers, and the fallout from that is a big part of why she's a mess now, regularly hungover on the job, her teenage daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), already living with her stepfather (Scoot McNairy), taunting her by dating an older creep. Now she finds out that Silas (Toby Kebbell), the ringleader they ultimately failed to capture, is back in town, and she's intent on finding him before more corpses appear in the present.
Two-track crime stories like <I>Destroyer</I> often seem like they would be better off if they were reconfigured to focus more on one time period or the other, and that's a major issue here. Both halves of the film are rather by-the-numbers, stepping through familiar situations with only the occasional interesting deviation, although hinting at situations just interesting enough to keep the audience's attention. The flashback sequences seem a bit lighter than those in the present; too much of who Erin was to start with is held back for this thread to give an idea of how the assignment changed her, and the gang as a whole barely gets enough holding it together to make what happened to them later particularly compelling. Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi throw in a couple of sharp turns, but these aren't the sort of guys who commit entertainingly intricate crimes and the material around the robberies is restrained, saving too much for last-minute revelations that don't pack the punch they should.
The film's biggest problem is a severe charisma void at the center; it may not be necessary for the audience to approve of what the people in a movie do, but they should at least be intrigued, and nobody here truly merits intrigue. The filmmakers go to the effort of dialing Nicole Kidman's beauty down to emphasize how she has apparently not slept since all this happened but still seems content to coast on her star power; Erin is a big-time blank for much of the movie, as interesting as she is because there's usually something in Kidman's voice that indicates her words are coming from somewhere. Kidman's performance never seems reflected in that of Jade Pettyjohn, though she's at least effective in making daughter Shelby believably obnoxious, even if she's maybe also a bit too self-aware. The closest any of the compromised cops and robbers come to being interesting is a manic performance by Tatiana Maslany as the ringleader's girlfriend in the past who may just have a bit of regret in the present that she's stuck with this form of rebellion as long as she has. Maybe most frustrating is that the bogeyman at the center never earns the fear that's supposed to inspire Erin to hunt him down before he gets her; Toby Kebbell's Silas is more than a degree or two scummier than the other bearded dudes in Erin's life (it's not totally unreasonable to initially think Sebastian Stan and Scoot McNairy are the same guy here), and he's a guy who does what he does would be scary in the real world, but he's just another bad guy here.
Some of this is made up for by Karyn Kusama having a pretty good eye for how to make this look good and feel more tense; she stages robberies and chases with skill and when an unexpected crime breaks out in the middle of some boring surveillance, the audience's blood starts racing the same way Erin's does. She and her crew shoot and cut scenes of her driving on Los Angeles's endless freeways in a way that all at once emphasizes the dehumanizing sprawl of the city and the passage of time, and while the audience perhaps notices her tendency toward showy, disorienting shots, she dials them back once they've served their purpose. She does some neat things with seemingly-inconsequential things in the background that tie the movie together in ways that lesser directors wouldn't make work.Despite that, "Destroyer" turns out fairly drab, even if eventually comes up with enough interesting details to add some interest to its drain-circling cop and low-rent robbers. It's an experience that seems frustratingly common with Kusama's films - all the pieces seem to be there but they seem like they could be arranged or connected better, and the movie just doesn't pack the punch it seemingly should.
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