Destroyer ★★★

(Review for Willamette Week)

Destroyer is yet another LA film noir about a hard-boiled detective who doesn’t play it by the book, but what separates it from the overwhelmingly male-centric noirs of yore is that our gritty antihero is (finally) an antiheroine. Swaggering through the streets with an icy blue stare and a battered leather jacket, Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) attempts to solve a murderous mystery related to her distant, checkered past. Along the way, she viciously curses at her colleagues, her estranged daughter, anyone she comes into contact with, really.

Anyone except her late literal partner-in-crime (Sebastian Stan), whom we learn about through painfully expository dialogue and messy flashback sequences. This clunky structure deadens the emotional weight of Bell’s trauma, making it difficult to empathize with her until much too late into the runtime.

While Kidman has been universally acclaimed for her transformative performance, even nabbing a Golden Globe nomination, the supporting members of the cast are just as praise-worthy. Bradley Whitford and Tatiana Maslany steal the few scenes they have, a testament to director Karyn Kusama’s knack for consistently eliciting top-tier performances despite the so-so script. Julie Kirkwood’s breathtaking cinematography also helps, juxtaposing a dark, forgettable story against bright, dynamic visuals.

Though Destroyer doesn’t quite live up to its potential, seeing a complicated, traditionally “unlikable” woman kick ass onscreen in a non-sexualized way is admittedly refreshing.