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Kidman embraces her character in ‘Destroyer’

Dan Webster

Karyn Kusama's film "Destroyer" was publicized last year, but it never received a wide-spread release. I finally was able to see it at home and was prompted to review it for Spokane Public Radio:

Beauty may not be a guarantee of success in life. But it can’t hurt, at least when the success we’re talking about involves the film industry. (All references to the likes of Harvey Weinstein aside, of course.)

Just consider Nicole Kidman. Over the course of her career, Kidman has a played a number of different characters – and she’s imbued each one with some unique quality.

From roles as diverse as the murderous Suzanne Stone in “To Die For” to the resentful wife Alice Harford in “Eyes Wide Shut,” from the haughty school prefect Nicola Radcliffe in “Flirting” to the troubled title character in “Margot at the Wedding,” Kidman has shown an ability not only to make her characters seem believable but to garner each at least a measure of sympathy.

Even Suzanne Stone, whom I described – you’ll recall – as murderous.

It helps, of course, that Kidman possesses a kind of luminescent beauty that can’t be disguised, even when hidden behind a honker of a fake nose in the role that earned her a Best Actress Oscar – that of the doomed writer Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours.”

And that beauty shines through almost as well in the crime thriller “Destroyer,” which though released last year never played in more than 200-odd theaters. “Destroyer” is available for streaming through Amazon Prime.

Not that director Karyn Kusama, working from an original screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, didn’t do her best to make Kidman ugly. Kidman plays Erin Bell, a Los Angeles police detective nearly two decades past an event she endured as an undercover FBI agent that nearly killed her and set her life on a self-destructive course.

Her penchant for self-abuse can be seen in the lines that mark her face, not to mention that fact that she looks at least a week past her last shower.

“Destroyer” opens with Bell coming upon a tattooed corpse that she recognizes. Then the film begins playing with time and space, not always in an easily comprehensible way, and we discover that Bell is hell-bent on a personal investigation. Someone has sent her a dye-stained 100-dollar bill, a relic from the life-changing event, and soon she is off, tracking down the principals from her past so that she can locate one in particular: a guy named Silas.

To explain much more would take us into spoiler territory. It’s enough merely to say that there’s a good reason why Bell is so intent on finding Silas – and why she’s basically been sleepwalking through life for so long.

Not that everything about “Destroyer” works. For one thing, any competent police chief would have fired Bell long ago – or, short of that, ordered her to at least wash her hair. For another, Bell’s gestapo tactics often make Kusama’s film feel too much like a “Rambo” flick.

Yet Kusama does film a couple of stirring bank robberies, and she gets solid performances from a cast that includes Sebastian Stan, Tatania Maslany and Bradley Whitford.

And, of course, Kidman, whose talent for portraying complex characters surpasses even a skilled makeup artist’s attempts to mask her natural beauty. 

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