By Carl Wyant.
It starts slowly, a noir in harsh daylight set in Los Angeles and centered on a burned out LAPD detective . . . yes, alcohol is involved . . . where have we seen this before?
But there’s a twist, immediately.
The hollowed out shell of a robbery homicide cop is a middle aged woman who looks like she’s slept in the same clothes, in her car, for a year or two . . . half alive or half dead . . . pick ‘em.
There’s a murder victim, facedown on the concrete beside the LA River, blood, gunshot wounds, an untraceable 38, enigmatic neck tattoo, and and a handful of hundred dollar bills stained in die-pack scattered around the body.
We’re off on the hunt, and most everything seems routine for the genre, at first . . . a Latino gangbanger gun dealer, an ex con dying of AIDS and early released from prison lying in a bed in his mother’s seedy inbred empire clapboard, a scumbag lawyer living on the cliffside in Palos Verdes . . . but the patina, the matter-of-fact performances, the authentic, run down or tarted up LA locations, the beach, San Berdoo, Chavez Ravine, they’re adding up to something more than the methodical pace of an ‘investigation’, something darker, more textural, more felt than understood . . . a backstory that’s ages old and peeling away one layer of dead, yellowed, scarred skin at a time.
Another story is developing parallel, a history of violence, deceit, Detective Erin Bell’s (Nicole Kidman) story. Her daughter, 16, out of control, an ex husband, stable, long suffering, but sober, an anchor, and then the glimpses of that past arrive.
Undercover in a crack den of madness that feeds armed robberies, and a love story with her cop partner (Sebastian Stan), the moral spine to her corrupt skeleton with piercing blue eyes . . . they embed deep with their targets, look like them, act like them, become them . . . almost, and this is the cautionary UC tale we’ve seen dozens, but again comes a twist that leads us back to where we started.
No spoiler here, but suffice to say that this story hammers away at the audience, pulling everyone down with it in a very unselfconscious, measured, and crafted in its pared back aesthetic fashion until BOOM, it bludgeons like a 45 cracking open a skull.
Director Karyn Kusama creates a cinematic poetry from a world we suspect exists, have had allusions to shoved our way by lesser talents, but seldom see through quite her lens darkly, and the arabesque you’ll never see coming from her collaborators, screenwriters, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi lands like a rock thrown down from a freeway overpass.
Destroyer is aptly named. It is. It will.
See it if you’re strong enough. See it if you aren’t.