Release Date(s)2018 (April 23, 2019)
Studio(s)30West/Automatik Entertainment/Mirror Releasing (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Los Angeles is the unforgiving location in Destroyer, a crime thriller starring Nicole Kidman as LAPD cop Erin Bell, who, we learn through flashbacks, was sent undercover nearly 16 years ago with an FBI agent (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a gang of violent, ruthless bank robbers led by Silas (Toby Kebbell). Silas is still at large after the gang’s final job turned into a bloody nightmare that has led to Erin’s current, prematurely haggard look.
Erin has long since ignored her appearance and is still of concern to her estranged partner Ethan (Scoot McNairy). Her troubled teenage daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) resents her and has been making some destructive choices. Her colleagues have lost respect for her as she goes about her day zombie-like, her face emotionless, as if her soul is dead. She becomes involved in another cop’s case involving a corpse with a gang tattoo on his neck, the same one Erin once had to get to convince the bad guys she was one of them. She realizes Silas is back and determines to bring him down and put her own toxic guilt behind her.
Director Karyn Kusama has taken the police procedural and cast a female character in the lead. When we first see Kidman, she’s barely recognizable under Bill Corso’s make-up, which transforms her beautiful face into a grim mask – bloodshot eyes, sun-wrinkled skin, a misshapen nose, and heavy bags under the eyes. Erin has worked for years in the baking sun of Southern California and, physically, it has taken its toll. She walks like an older woman and, immersed in her own self-pity and despair, has lost the ability to smile. Her Erin has not been living; she’s been existing.
Though Ms. Kidman is quite amazing in a role unlike any she’s undertaken previously, the film has its problems. Director Kusama uses an editing technique that switches back and forth in time. This takes a bit of getting used to and is initially confusing. In terms of pace, the movie is uneven, with long stretches of dialogue interspersed too infrequently with action. A film such as this should move briskly, but too many scenes go on too long or are repetitive. That Erin is trying to re-establish communication with her daughter may have been intended as a humanizing device, but the daughter appears as a convenient plot device instead. If the film had been trimmed by about ten minutes, it would have been tightened without giving up anything critical.
The production design features location filming throughout Los Angeles. No scenes were shot in the studio, and this gives the film a gritty realism. The scenes are overwhelmingly bright, almost the way it looks to a person passing from a dark room into sunlight. The relentless sun and heat contrast with the dark, gloomy streets and back alleys typical of crime thrillers. While watching Destroyer, you’ll want a cold bottle of water nearby.
The Blu-ray Combo Pack contains Blu-ray and DVD versions, along with a Digital code on a paper insert within the case. With a 1080p resolution and an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the film is distinctive in its overly bright exteriors, which have a washed out look and likely were purposely overexposed. There are even several lens flares, which may have been left in intentionally to emphasize the relentless sun. The fluorescent lighting inside the bank gives off a bluish tint. The color palette of Erin’s clothes tends toward dark, muted shades. For a good part of the film, she wears a black leather jacket with a hint of green that is picked up in sunlight. Erin’s face reflects the ravages of poor maintenance more than normal aging.
Sound is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The Theodore Shapiro score uses unusual string techniques and some electronic flourishes. Clarity overall is good: when Kidman speaks in a tired, drawn-out manner, she can be understood. A key scene containing gunfire is dramatic, and whimpering bank patrons can be heard under the loud gun blasts, police sirens, and bullet hits. Grunts, body blows, and kicks in a fight scene between Kidman and Tatiana Maslany (as Petra) are sweetened to enhance the excitement.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc Combo Pack include two audio commentaries, a making-of documentary, and a photo gallery.
Commentary with Karyn Kusama – Director Kusama speaks about the Los Angeles River location, referring to it as nature coming up on concrete. She emphasizes the dramatic difference between the personalities of Nicole Kidman and her Erin Bell character, and discusses the theme of circularity and a structure that “toggles between past and present.” Erin is in command of her rage and formidable. Kusama staged the bank robbery scene to look both authentic and chaotic. Erin ensnares a person in a plot that will lead to tragedy.
Commentary with writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi – These men have been writing partners for 25 years. They spend a long time discussing the plot and characters before they begin writing in order to get a thorough understanding of how both will develop. The skateboarder scene is important because it lets the audience know that the day is the same in early and later scenes. The plot kicks in after the title, Destroyer, is flashed on the screen, when Erin receives a mysterious envelope. They discuss how the film is structured around the planning of a crime and the investigation of a crime. Silas is a sociopath who leads Erin into a bad situation and is good at seeing what a person’s need is and taking advantage of it. In a tense situation, “doing it right isn’t an option.” The writers discuss the arc of Erin’s downfall and how others are affected by her actions, even as she retains a sense of morality.
Breakdown of an Anti-Hero: The Making of Destroyer – Writer/producer Phil Hay refers to the film as a “thriller about someone on an obsessive and destructive mission.” Director Karyn Kusama defines it as a movie “pushing the expectations of the genre.” Nicole Kidman read the script, was affected by it emotionally, and expressed interest in playing the role of Erin Bell. “I don’t want people to see me; I want them to see the character.” Bill Corso’s make-up included eye bags, a nose appliance, latex material stretched onto Kidman’s face, and painted-on freckles. Kusama filmed the entire movie on location for authenticity. The actors felt secure in her hands. She wanted to instill sensitivity into the character of Erin.
Photo Gallery – A series of color stills from Destroyer is accessible either through an automatic slideshow or manually.
– Dennis Seuling