*. Watching Destroyer was an odd experience. I started off enjoying it somewhat, though the plot seemed kind of formulaic. A tough cop nurses a guilt complex after being involved in an undercover investigation that went bad, resulting in her partner being killed. Years later, an alcoholic shell of her former self, she has the opportunity to settle the score.
*. The only thing new here is that the cop is a woman, played by a decidedly unglamorous Nicole Kidman, made up to look like a derelict. She even walks like a zombie, what director Karyn Kusama calls her “broken cowboy” gait. Otherwise everything goes pretty much as you’d expect, with Detective Erin Bell working her way up a chain of informers until she can get to the big guy responsible at the end. She beats people up. She gets beaten up. But she stays on the trail.
*. That’s all pretty standard and I was a bit disappointed that the story didn’t have anything more to offer but the fact that our broken cowboy is a cowgirl. But then we get to the end and there’s a twist. Though it’s not a twist in relation to the basic elements I’ve just described. Instead we find out that the story has been traveling in a big circle, with the end taking us back to the beginning. And in fact the time scheme has been scrambled throughout. Some of this was clear at the time, especially with the flashbacks to the events that happened 17 years earlier. But in other places the rearrangement of events in a different order came as a surprise.
*. That should have been a good thing, mixing the formula up a bit. But I didn’t like it. For starters, I was confused. In fact, I’m still unsure of what was going on. Why did Silas get back in touch with Erin? If he wanted to get in touch with her, why did he make it so hard for her to find him? Was he surprised that she might want to kill him?
*. The goal was to show Erin caught in a “purgatorial netherworld,” unwinding the spool of her life as she lies dying. That’s an interesting idea, but I just don’t think it was executed all that well. Because of the confusion the jumbling of the time scheme causes there isn’t any sense of the story snapping shut at the end, as it should. Some points are tied up, but others remain obscure to me even on repeated viewings.
*. In short, and this goes to why I found Destroyer and odd experience, I started off thinking it too obvious and ended up finding it too obscure.
*. Most of the rest of the film I thought equally split between good and bad. I liked Kidman’s transformation, and her performance generally. I liked the semi-industrial score. I liked the photography, which really creates a sense of the L.A. sun being a force people need to be protected from with blinds or bits of shade. I liked the way, after a long chase on foot, Bell and the man she’s pursuing have to stand hunched over, hands on knees, gasping for air. That’s a realistic touch that few movies bother with, but let’s face it, unless you’re a professional athlete I don’t care what kind of shape you’re in: if you have to run hard for any distance in your 40s you’re going to be licked in a hurry.
*. On the other hand, I really didn’t care for the whole subplot with Bell’s daughter. I didn’t buy that at all, and while a soft touch for such sentimental stuff usually I found the whole conversation about Shelby’s one happy memory to be contrived. Nor did I get a sense of any chemistry between Bell and Chris, her partner. This was a serious problem, because without that it’s hard to get on board with her revenge tour. Not to mention they were both compromised figures to begin with, having a scheme to rob from the bank robbers.
*. On balance, despite all the stuff it has going for it, I thought the misses outnumbered the hits in Destroyer. I found the plot full of improbabilities, making it gritty without being realistic. Which is another odd conjunction. but not a happy one.