By Megan Bianco
As January begins, Oscar contenders given limited releases in December now go wider into theaters. One of the films that originally had a little hype back in autumn, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, currently appears to be struggling to keep movie fans’ attention because of the mega-success of films such as A Star is Born and The Favourite. Destroyer’s production values are more modest and less flashy than those two hits and straddles the fine line between Oscar bait and gritty indie feature.
In modern-day Los Angeles, detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) remains scarred physically and emotionally from an undercover assignment in Palm Springs back in 2001. As seen through flashbacks, Erin and her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), investigate a gang of bank robbers, which becomes more intense and tragic than she expected. Now in the present, she has to deal with the gang leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell), possibly resurfacing and rekindling heists.
Tatiana Maslany and Scoot McNairy co-star. Destroyer is like Kidman’s Monster (2003) moment, with her character receiving a lot of unflattering, aging makeup for the present-day scenes. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi’s screenplay had potential, and Kusama has shown to be a decent director with Girlfight (2000) and Jennifer’s Body (2009).
But weirdly enough, even though Kidman has been a consistent actress with quality performances throughout her four-decade career, she’s actually a bit campy here, particularly with the present-set parts in which it feels as if the makeup is working against her. Kidman delivers more subtle and more moving performances in the flashbacks.
Still, a barely decent indie flick is probably more engaging than a half-baked, schlocky studio B-movie released in January.