Nicole Kidman seems to have actively looked for interesting roles for much of her career, from Eyes Wide Shut and Birth to roles in dark films such Boy Erased or The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Here though, the challenge is visual as she transforms into the battle-scarred cop Erin Bell
20 years ago she was part of an undercover operation that went very wrong after she successfully infiltrated a gang who were leaving bodies and bank robberies in their wake – heists that didn’t add up to small change. Unfortunately for Bell, she receives a package from this experience, letting her know that her betrayal has not been forgotten. This springs her into action as she hunts down the necessary people involved to locate the sender of the package, navigating a maze of ex-associates with no qualms about her unlawful actions.
Flashback scenes are spread throughout the film, showing us the undercover operation and the psychotic leader, the primary target. Considering just how low Bell has plummeted, the flashback scenes work as we see a very different Bell who indeed looks 20 years younger.
In what seems like an attempted part-character study, it is obvious that the trauma she experienced has lead to addiction, but the only other indicators of her emotional well-being is one very off-putting scene in which she does what needs to be done to get information, and other scenes with her daughter, the first being Bell’s reaction to her daughter dating a much older man – one filled with instant disgust and a refusal to understand. It feels as if their relationship could have been either removed entirely or further explored to humanise her character. However, given her current situation, a muddy and tangled relationship with her daughter is appropriate.
It is made clear that she hasn’t lost her touch as a cop, as a bank robbery is staged wonderfully as bullets fly while we know where the characters are and what their intentions are. Bell fearlessly enters the situation, skillfully and quickly flashing her badge to back up officers. Skillful with her weapon, the consequences of the shootout run deep.
Much has been made of Nicole Kidman not wearing (‘flattering’) make up in Destroyer, in fact her make-up is designed make her look older. As soon as photos were released, this was the narrative. But her looks in the film stretch beyond haggard and into the borderline absurd, presenting us a leading character who looks and walks like a reanimated corpse.
Additionally, as she drinks her way through most of the film, her job is never in question, not even receiving as much as a suspension, only middle fingers from fellow officers who she has ostracised from her life – one literally telling her to go have a rest as she stumbles across her feet and her words. It is hard to believe this lack of authority over her behaviour, not mention that we must assume this behaviour preceded the opening scenes by some time
Destroyer plays with time in a way not seen recently, if at all. This has nothing to do with the flashbacks either, it is a film to watch again most certainly, but not to better understand it. The final scenes allow all the pieces to fall into place rather perfectly.
Without her permission, Bell is forced to confront the ordeal that made her who she is now, forcing her (and us) to relive it. The obvious key theme depicted is the high stakes of undercover work, but also a peek into the psyche of a person spending extended periods of time with people she has sworn to protect others from; an existential dilemma to be sure.