Despite anything and everything she’s done before, Nicole Kidman puts forth a completely new image in “Destroyer.”
It’s acting that calls attention to itself, but that’s because the actress displays a toughness quite unexpected of her, particularly at this point in a career that has gone along in a linear and comfortable way. Working with a unique director in Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”), who has a penchant for rough-around-the-edges characters, Kidman digs deep for her portrait of a police detective whose troubled personal history impacts her latest investigation.
Indeed, “Destroyer” is a murder mystery, but it’s also a profile of a person who has plenty to come to terms with … and whether she’ll be able to is a mystery in and of itself. Kidman’s Erin Bell is a Los Angeles police detective with sketchy personal and professional pasts, and part of the conceit of “Destroyer” is that it moves back and forth in time to explain who Bell was … and how that affects who she is in such a major way.
Suffice it to say that an undercover operation she was involved in, while in the FBI, went spectacularly wrong and left Bell as clearly damaged goods. Her current pursuit of a master bank robber (Toby Kebbell) isn’t just a case in and of itself, it’s also seen by Bell as a way to redeem herself for the wrongs in her career to date.
She’s also trying to put her teen daughter (Jade Pettyjohn) on a better path, particularly where romance is concerned, despite the dicey relations Bell has with her own ex (Scoot McNairy).
The time-bending element of “Destroyer” certainly isn’t new to movies, and it’s used very intentionally to keep viewers on their figurative toes here. In fact, it takes virtually the entire film to get the timeline straight – which ultimately turns out to be more a flaw than something creatively praiseworthy, since the audience can’t be blamed for simply giving up on that eventually.
The problem there is how it affects the full picture of Erin Bell, meaning Kidman has to work all the harder in keeping the character engrossing. It’s to her immense credit that she succeeds, repeatedly coming up with elements in the performance that make you marvel that it’s Nicole Kidman you’re watching. She knew what she was getting into here, and she was ready.
Whether others are ready for her in “Destroyer” is a big question, but the odds are that they aren’t. And when it comes to being surprised in a theater, that’s a good thing.