Destroyer’, starring Nicole Kidman


I missed Destroy­er first time around, when it was released in 2018. Inex­plic­a­bly, so did every­body else, and it grossed just $5 mil­lion, bare­ly half its bud­get. Which is crim­i­nal, as it’s one of the most intel­li­gent and grip­ping thrillers made in the last decade.

The fifth film by Karyn Kusama, it was writ­ten by her hus­band Phil Hay and his writ­ing part­ner Matt Man­fre­di, and is their third col­lab­o­ra­tion together. 

And although her fea­ture debut, Girl­fight (2000), was laud­ed at Sun­dance and Cannes, it fared poor­ly at the box office. As did her next two films, Aeon Flux (‘05) and Jennifer’s Body (’09). So she spent the fol­low­ing 5 or 6 years work­ing as a direc­tor for hire on television. 

Kid­man’s best per­for­mance since To Die For in 1995.

But she went back to the sil­ver screen in 2015 for The Invi­ta­tion, a well-regard­ed hor­ror that had only a lim­it­ed release. But Destroy­er takes her work to a whole new level.

Con­fi­dent­ly plot­ted and impec­ca­bly script­ed, the direc­tion and cin­e­matog­ra­phy are con­stant­ly thought­ful and care­ful­ly chore­o­graphed. Which ought of course to be true for every film, but almost nev­er is. While the twist is low-key, sub­tle and, clev­er­ly, structural.

But the entire film revolves around the vor­tex that is Nicole Kid­man. The grav­i­ta­tion­al pull of her self-destruc­tion seems to drag the whole of Los Ange­les down into the hole she’s hell-bent in bur­row­ing for the grave she’s deter­mined to dig for herself.

Kidman’s a fun­ny one. Her choic­es are actu­al­ly almost always both chal­leng­ing and impres­sive­ly intel­li­gent. But the few duds are so glar­ing, they can be momen­tar­i­ly blind­ing. But real­ly, it’s only The Step­ford Wives (’04), Bewitched (’05) and Aus­tralia (08) that baf­fle. Birth (’04), Mar­got at the Wed­ding (’07) and Nine (’09), for instance, might not work as films, but they were all choic­es and risks worth taking.

This though is com­fort­ably her best per­for­mance, and is the answer she’ll give when St Peter asks her to point to the one thing that could move him to open the pearly gates for her.

Lynne Ram­say’s You Were Nev­er Real­ly Here.

As for Kusama, she pre­sum­ably finds her­self once more at a cross­roads. Hav­ing had her fin­gers burnt try­ing to pro­duce com­mer­cial fod­der for the Hol­ly­wood bean-coun­ters, she was once again offered the chance to get her hands on a siz­able bud­get, for a re-make of Drac­u­la, only to have the project can­celled. So which way does she go now, to the left or to the right?

Does she fol­low the path of Kathryn Bigelow, and trade in her intel­li­gence for dol­lar bills, or that of Lynne Ram­say (whose You Were Nev­er Real­ly Here I reviewed here) and Debra Granick, into the under­growth and uncer­tain­ty of the inde­pen­dent world?

I hope some­body sits her down and forces her to watch repeat­ed view­ings of Zero Dark Thir­ty (’12). There but for the grace of God…

You can see the trail­er for Destroy­er below:

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