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TIFF Review: Destroyer – “Nicole Kidman embodies this dark character in a haunting performance”

You’ve never really seen a cop drama quite like this one. Or at least not with this lead. Never before has a female cop been shown to be this uncompromising, this damaged, this reprehensible. In Destroyer, an almost unrecognizable Nicole Kidman embodies this dark character in a haunting performance.

In a gritty, sunburnt Los Angeles, a woman sits in her car, eyes rimmed red, swollen. Her face is gaunt and drawn. In an instant, it’s easy to see, that this is a woman who has suffered. She steps out of the car, unsteadily but with authority and heads towards a crime scene. It’s here we are introduced to her as Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) who appears to share no love with her colleagues. However, she’s determined to solve this murder, which has ties to her past. Ties, we soon learn, that are related to an undercover assignment she had with a fellow cop, Chris (Sebastian Stan), several years before. Bell is soon on the trail of revisiting a past she would only be too happy to leave behind in order to bring this case to a close.

Director Karyn Kusama creates an atmosphere here that mimics her lead actress – ominous, yet engrossing. With cinematography from Julie Kirkwood, Los Angeles is an unforgiving backdrop within which Erin Bell must survive. Managing to traverse back and forth between two time-frames can be a tricky storytelling device but Kusama pulls it off in a way that largely doesn’t destroy momentum. While some may find it a confusing way to weave the threads of this tale, there’s method to the madness that pays off in the end. Though, while the film never feels too long despite clocking in at just over two hours, a few end shots could have been trimmed in order to make an even more impactful conclusion.

The supporting cast includes an equally unrecognizable Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and a scene-stealing Bradley Whitford, who has little to do but who does it with bravado. However, Destroyer is truly a showcase for Kidman. Jumping timelines, Kidman plays almost two separate characters in this film, undergoing a physical transformation that is all at once captivating and yet sometimes distracting. But she never seems to get lost underneath the make-up. This is Kidman as bad-ass and violent as they come. She proves again that she’s one of the best, and bravest, actors of her generation… and that you can do a lot of damage in a fight with just a soap dish.

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