“Brave” is what film critics call it when an actress pushes her boundaries and uglies herself up to play the kind of role Christian Bale or Leonardo DiCaprio or Russell Crowe take as their due; flawed, damaged, not particularly likable antiheroes, at war with themselves and with the world. 

Sure, we admire Bale’s commitment to his craft as his weight seesaws up and down and we take a certain delight in the fact that vegan Leo was so desperate to win an Oscar for The Revenant that he scarfed down raw bison liver but we don’t call them brave. But Halle Berry eschewing make-up and shagging Billy Bob Thornton? That’s award-friendly “brave” right there. 

Having won a Best Actress Oscar back in 2003 for uglying up to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours, in Destroyer, Kidman bundles “brave” acting into the boot of her car, drives it out to the middle of nowhere and puts two in its face delivering a searing, mesmerising performance that dares you to look away.   

Opening with an extreme close-up of an almost unrecognisably haggard Kidman’s eyes as they flutter open, red-rimmed, bloodshot and haunted, the kind of eyes Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote might have after a decade-long bender just as he’s about to slam into the canyon wall, Karyn Kasuma’s gritty, grimy noirish Destroyer grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until it dumps you, beaten and broken, on the concrete some two hours later, Kidman’s dodgiest of dodgy cops, Erin Bell, our personal guide to a hell of her own making.

An alcoholic burnt-out case, haunted by nearly two decades of guilt, regret and bad choices, consumed by the desire for revenge, Bell finally gets her chance to exact a little long overdue retribution when dye-stained bank notes on a John Doe execution-style murder victim lead her to believe her nemesis, thrift store messiah and bank robber Silas (Toby Kebbell), has resurfaced. 

17 years earlier a younger, fresher faced Erin and her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) went undercover and infiltrated Silas’ cultish gang with tragic results, a disastrous heist leaving Chris and a bank teller dead and Silas in the wind. Believing the stained notes are a message from Silas, his way of taunting her, Bell is determined to find him and bring him down, forcing herself to confront the sins of her own dark past, before history repeats itself…

Driven by an absolutely ferocious performance from Kidman and working from a suitably hardboiled script by husband Phil Hay and his writing partner Matt Manfredi, Destroyer is hands down Kusama’s best film since her breakthrough Girlfight, the gripping, propulsive action scenes showcasing her muscular direction, one nerve janglingly scored heist scene almost sickeningly tense before exploding into inevitable violence and a punishing chase, the film unfolding in dusty, painfully bright sunshine, Kusama and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood’s beautiful compositions capturing a seedy, desolate Hell A that’s oppressive, claustrophobic, Kidman’s rogue cop stalking her prey through an asphalt jungle reminiscent of William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In LA, Kusama juggling a compelling fractured timeline to deliver a (quite literally) killer final twist as past and present collide.

Ably supported by a haunting Tatiana Maslany as Silas’ lover/acolyte and a wonderfully slimy turn from Bradley Whitford as a sleazy lawyer, there’s no doubting though that Destroyer is Kidman’s film. You simply can’t take your eyes off her. Bitter and bubbling with barely suppressed rage, she’s a revelation here, delivering a raw, angry performance that bristles with aggression, Erin soaking up punishment even as she dishes it out, shambling through the film in a fog of alcohol and pain, doing whatever it takes to get closer to her target whether that’s wanking off informants or pummeling suspects into submission. It’s the role of a lifetime for any actor and Kidman has never been better, her screwed-up, obsessive antiheroine, while never likable, is as sympathetic and compelling as she is monstrous. 

While Erin’s attempts to reconcile with her estranged and rebellious teenage daughter feel perfunctory, serving only to illustrate Erin’s inarticulate isolation and her desire for some form of redemption, and Kebbell’s villainous, charismatic Silas feels a little undercooked, Kasuma’s bleak, existential neo-noir is an exhilarating journey through the heart of darkness to transcendent grace, a journey anchored by Kidman’s bold, unflinching, unforgettable performance. It’s a bruising, cathartic experience that will leave you shell shocked. 

Movie Review: Destroyer
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