(Release Info London schedule; January 19th, 2019, 191 Portobello, Notting Hill, 12:00 PM)
In Karyn Kusama’s new crime thriller "Destroyer", the receipt of an ink-marked bill in the office mail propels 'LAPD' detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) on a perilous journey to find the murderer and gang leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell), and perhaps to finally make peace with her tortured past.
The richly complex odyssey through the underbelly of Los Angeles and nearby desert communities reunites Bell with members of the criminal gang she once joined as an undercover 'FBI' agent; an assignment which ended disastrously and has taken a heavy emotional and physical toll on her life. One by one, she tracks down the gang leader’s former cohorts including Petra (Tatiana Maslany), Silas onetime lover and current errand girl. During her obsessive search, Bell is flooded with memories of her undercover days with Silas gang and her involvement in a bank heist gone tragically wrong. Especially painful are her recollections of Chris (Sebastian Stan), the 'FBI' partner with whom she had a brief but meaningful romance. But Bell’s problems are not confined to the past. She's increasingly at odds with her rebellious sixteen-year-old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), from whom she is estranged. Her clumsy attempts to reach out to Shelby consistently backfire, exacerbating Bell’s overwhelming sense of hopelessness and loss. As she hones in on Silas, the demons of her compromised past emerge, and Bell must come to terms with her own culpability in what happened before she can entertain any hope of redemption.
Erin Bell is a troubled male cop. It's about a woman coming to terms with how she’s lived her life and trying to find some way to move forward. But it’s also a crime thriller about someone who, when she was younger, was placed in a dangerous situation she couldn’t handle and has been living with the repercussions ever since. Additionally, it’s a manhunt about a woman who's on an obsessive and destructive mission, the consequences of which are slowly unveiled. In the story, Bell can be an unpleasant, uncompromising person, often to her own detriment. She's’s constantly breaking rules. She’s a bad partner and a bad mom but even though she messes up, she keeps trying. There’s something so relatable about her persistence even though, with all the best intentions, her plans often go awry. Even when she’s doing things that are questionable, you keep hoping that in the end, she will be able to heal this wound that happened long ago. We're bearing witness for women like Erin Bell whose lives are thorny, women who’ve had to make so many compromises.
In a film rich with visuals, the most immediate and most shocking one is the first appearance of Bell. While recognizable, Bell is utterly transformed; the face and physique show years of neglect and distress. Her eyes have a haunted quality. Erin’s face is a map of time and regret. She has deliberately sabotaged her body and it shows her desire to hurt it. Nowhere is this contrast more pronounced than the scenes of Bell in her earlier days as an undercover 'FBI' agent. When we see her in flashback, events that happened seventeen years earlier, we're even more startled by her decline. In the flashbacks she’s fresh and open and there’s a kind of reckless enthusiasm about her. She was working undercover then, and she and her partner, who were playing a couple, actually fall in love. And we see that light in their eyes whereas, in the present, we see what’s happened to her as a result of losing all of that. Whereas as Erin, her skin has a kind of leathery quality that can happen in the perpetually sunny climate of Los Angeles and the desert.
While the story is laced with characters whose motives are sometimes as circumspect as Bell’s, the city of Los Angeles and it's surrounding desert communities have a co-starring role as well. The environment, through which Bell pursues the bad guy, tries to repair her broken mother-daughter relationship and wrestles with her personal demons enhances the story, giving it a specificity and unique flavor. As the grizzled detective pursues her nemesis and his-cohorts, she spends a great deal of time behind the wheel of her car traveling to various parts of the city and its environs to areas that are definitely not postcard pretty and which even many native Angelenos have never explored. The script realistically lays out Los Angeles. The neighborhoods have character and Erin’s travels from one part of the city to the other are an almost epic journey. Even the individual freeways have their own purpose and personality. The city of Los Angeles has an almost palpable persona in the film. The film captures that harsh light that just hits you in the face. It’s gritty without being dirty or dark.
Chris is Erin Bell’s onetime undercover detective partner and lover. He's a classic leading man charisma, but never overplays it. As the story progresses, he lets us see that Chris is also human; that he’s beginning to enjoy this undercover assignment and his tenderness for Erin becomes real. Silas is Bell’s elusive prey and the former gang leader who has haunted her life for the better part of two decades. Silas as a diabolical mastermind. Someone who's self-aggrandizing but also totally wrong, a small-time sleaze ball. That smallness helps guide the audience to a larger question about Erin’s real motives. Petra is the drug addicted spoiled-rich-girl gang member, who like her former boyfriend Silas, is on the downslide. She's a rich miscreant who has tragically gone on a terrible path for reasons that are not totally her own fault. Maslany invested her with a humanizing element of pathos, again bringing added nuance to the character. She's a well-to-do Beverly Hills girl who, by the time she’s eighteen, has fallen off the cliff due to substance abuse. When we see her seventeen years later, like Erin, she's a wreck. Not only has the long-term drug use damaged her physically, but she’s not even in her right mind anymore. And you wind up feeling a kind of sympathy for her. Even to the end, she still sees herself as privileged.
"Destroyer" is, at it's core, a film about confronting your mistakes and making the brave decision to be accountable for your actions. Within the relatable frameworks of crime thriller and cop movie, it’s also an insistent character study, hinging on the wounded but resilient psychic landscape of an 'LAPD' detective named Erin Bell. The criminal underworld she investigates, alongside a storytelling structure that allows for narrative surprise, recall films like "Heat" and "The Usual Suspects". The screenplay based on mutual love of crime movies and interest in Los Angeles diverse neighborhoods and populations. It's a novelistic movie with an emphasis on character, a style reminiscent of classic 1970s cop films like "Serpico" and "The French Connection". The storyline pushes the limit of the police detective genre, juggling time frames with satisfying action set pieces and surprise reveals all built around a challenging central character who's at best an anti-hero, and certainly someone who has made some morally compromised choices.
It’s made more modern and relevant by it's complicated female lead. The look and feel of the film reflects the world of extremes it inhabits; a seductive mirage of blasting Los Angeles sunlight and dreamy blankets of coastal fog, fueled by the sonic assault of 1990’s desert-metal and the pop confections of today’s top 40 radio. Though "Destroyer" moves between two distinct time-frames, it primarily occupies the Los Angeles of today, a '21st Century' melting pot of corrupt lawyers and small-time crooks, gun dealers and local preachers, hard-working middle-class laborers and charismatic charlatans. This vast city, connected by sprawling freeway systems and dotted with neighborhoods as diverse as it's people; is itself a mirror of Erin Bell’s divided soul; humming with secrets and lies, struggling to find what’s real in a landscape of carefully cultivated surfaces. While much of the visual approach to the film should be undeniably visceral and raw, there are opportunities for unexpected beauty and lyricism. The moments of redemption, both visual and moral, should be rare but hard-won.
"Destroyer" aims to uncover all kinds of primal destroyers, money, greed, hunger, but will also reveal the insidious qualities of memory, denial and the inexorable march of time itself. While society’s destructive impulses seem to have reached an apocalyptic peak, it’s still the peculiar will of an individual to sabotage herself that the most compelling and human to explore. In witnessing Erin Bell’s self-destruction, we're forced to confront our own personal destroyers. In the end she pays a terrible price for her redemption, but she finds it nonetheless. The audience experiences the spiral of regret and shame that powers her odyssey back into the past, but also witnesses the heroic journey of a morally compromised character, a woman who eventually decides to right a wrong at any cost. Haunted by guilt and loss, when an old nemesis resurfaces, she becomes hell bent on finding him, seeing it as her one last shot at redemption. As a parable, "Destroyer" is a bracing woman-against-herself story. It's a gritty, riveting and narratively complex crime thriller.
Men and women will be drawn by the action and the thrill ride you only get by seeing a movie in a theater with other people; where you can applaud and cheer and cry and have a tension in your gut from the very first scene. It will totally satisfy any moviegoer looking for a gritty, pulpy thriller. And for the faint of heart, there is also surprising sensitivity and delicacy. Underneath all the grit and the action there's a humanity and emotion and a sense of redemption we don’t normally see in movies of this genre. It truly transcends the genre. Ultimately, "Destroyer" is about moral accountability. The film arrives at a moment in our culture when we need to take a really close look at how we behave towards each other, as people, as fellow citizens and as nations. Maybe that’s all our stories can ask for at this point of such uncertainty and chaos, one person making a change.