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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Destroyer - Review

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Destroyer is Nicole Kidman's Taxi Driver, a gripping neo-noir set on the streets of Los Angeles that echoes True Detective, very much in the mould of those hard-boiled detective dramas of the 1970s, only with a female protagonist. It's not always a perfect experience but ultimately is just about a satisfying one, allowing Kidman to continue to shine in an action role as a hard-nosed undercover cop Erin Bell.

Split back and forth between the present day in a dual narrative that has all the twists and turns that you'd expect from an airport crime thriller, Destroyer has you on edge from start to finish. It captures the atmosphere of the city well and immerses you in its seedy underbelly, making use of a well-plotted mystery to keep you on edge. The plot may be a fairly by-the-numbers story made unique largely thanks to its time jumps, but what's there is interesting stuff.

The supporting cast is incredible, if a bit underused. When you have Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Kebbell and Scoot McNairy in your movie people are going to pay attention. Yet this remains the Kidman show throughout, the attention never wavering from her in the present or past. She's the centre of every storyline, whether she's stopping a bank robbery or trying to speak to her underage daughter, who is in a relationship with an older man. The family melodrama is arguably the weakest storyline present in Destroyer but it's easy to understand why it was thrown in, and the film does an exceptional job at making sure the audience knows that Bell has demons lingering over her head. She's a character who has been through so much and it's clear why she's very much a figure of controversy in the police force.

The chemistry that Stan and Kidman have together is fantastic and one of the benefits of having such quality actors in the film's supporting cast is that they get more screentime together. It comes as no surprise to see that Maslany is superb as well, no stranger to playing different versions of characters from Orphan Black, so she is able to switch between the older and younger versions of her character with ease. Going for character actors seems to be a wise choice here, and it's cool to see Karyn Kusama (who directed four episodes of the show) is drawing from the Halt and Catch Fire cast for not only McNairy, but also Toby Huss, who has a minor role.

The pace of Destroyer is hard-edged and hard-boiled, and it feels very pulpy at times. The climatic few minutes where everything comes together are very much rewarding ones, even if at the end of the day, there may not be much new in terms of the genre. One of the main negatives about Destroyer is that there is hardly anything new here plot wise, and every trope feels tired and overused which is a drawback. There's only so much that a good cast can do, after all. But every loose end is wrapped up, giving it a very episodic feel as a result.

Destroyer should enter Kidman into the already competitive Oscar-race for best actress even if it is unlikely the film will be in with a shot at a best picture nomination. This is one of her best performances to date - which is saying something, given her lengthy career in the past. And her collaboration with Kusama is definitely a welcome career move that should hopefully lead to similiar roles in the future. If you like modern noir crime thrillers or are just here to watch Kidman shine, then this is very much the film for you. Don't go expecting anything spectacular, but there's enough there to love.

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