dir Karyn Kusama
scr Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
prd Fred Berger, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
with Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Scoot McNairy, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, James Jordan, Zach Villa, Toby Huss, Beau Knapp, Shamier Anderson
release US 25.Dec.18, UK 25.Jan.19
18/US 2h03
Little more than a husk: Kidman

kebbell stan maslany
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Destroyer Nicole Kidman delivers a raw, often painfully wracked performance in a gritty police thriller that tells a story through two interwoven timelines and some tricky editing. The script feels a bit too tidy for its own good, especially as everything else about the film is so deliberately messy. And while the emotional kick isn't as strong as it should be, it's remarkably intense from start to finish.

Detective Erin (Kidman) has clearly seen better days. A barely functioning alcoholic, she shuffles through her job only barely holding herself together. The problem is that her past has come back to haunt her in a darkly insidious way. A current murder she's investigating is connected to an undercover case she worked 17 years ago with her partner Chris (Stan), infiltrating a gang of robbers led by the Manson-like Silas (Kebbell). Now he's back for revenge, so Erin seeks out the old gang members to try to stay one step ahead of his murderous plan.

Kusama expertly orchestrates both gloomy moodiness and electrifying action. Unreliable narratives are tricky on-screen, because films rely more heavily on emotional connections. So pulling the rug out feels like a betrayal rather than a plot twist. Hay and Manfredi's awkward script spins around in time, which is delineated through Erin's frighteningly declining appearance. Oddly, none of her cohorts comment on how terrible she looks, perhaps because they understand why she's so damaged and disengaged.

Kidman's performance goes much further than the grisly makeup and ratty wig. Erin's haunted persona extends from her jittery eyes and clenched jaw to her knotted fingers and zombie-like footwork. Never remotely sober, Erin is going about her job using muscle memory, and it's difficult not to worry about the Kidman's health playing her. Especially since Erin is a bright spark in flashbacks, and her trauma has left her little more than a husk.

Even if the supporting roles are more thinly drawn, the supporting cast is excellent, quietly layering their own emotional fallout into each moment. This gives the flashbacks a sense of harrowing doom, while the present-day scenes wheeze with regret. No, it's not easy to watch, but it's darkly riveting. If there's an issue with the film, it's that Erin's soul is so shattered that there's no space left for sympathy. Watching her is cerebrally engaging, but we never quite feel for her. And the script's cynical view of justice leaves us deeply shaken.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 18.Oct.18 lff

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall