Monday, 28 January 2019


Destroyer Rides Again

2018 USA
Directed by Karyn Kusama
UK cinema release print.

Wow... this is a really great movie.

And, I’m happy to say... it took me unawares.

So Destroyer is a tale about a cop who was working with the FBI, 16 years prior to one of the main story timelines in the film, when the job went south for reasons I won’t reveal here. The cop’s name is Erin Belle and she’s played here by Nicole Kidman in what is a pretty amazing performance. She’s joined here by Toby Kebbell playing the lead villain Silas and Sebastian Stan playing Chris, Belle’s former partner in the back story.

The film is directed by Karyn Kusama, who directed both Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body (reviewed here) and it’s a real gem of a picture. I’m going to have to tread very carefully here to avoid spoilers.

Kidman plays two sides of Erin Belle, one as the bright, young thing who was involved in the original events and one as the current, burnt out cop version of her character who has been sent some evidence that the villain who wrecked things for her 16 years ago is back and up to his old tricks. So we see her piecing together the evidence and information she needs to find this villain while, at the same time, trying to juggle the stress of managing her fraught, alienated relationship with her 16 year old daughter. The film has twists and turns and, I have to say, I was not expecting most of them at all which, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know is a pretty rare occurrence. I almost always see the twists coming.

The film has a nice look to it and there are some great shot set ups with some very rich colour combinations, some of which almost reminded me of old Edward Hopper paintings. The director also uses a less than usual visual syntax throughout the film, especially with her use of establishing shots to give it an edgy, off kilter feel. Or should I say lack of use of establishing shots. That is to say... even her regular establishing shots tend to pull you into a specific location. One of the things I caught her doing was using a high shot of a building as an establishing shot, for example, before tracking down and directly into the eye level of Nicole Kidman sitting in her car, shifting the focus as she highlighted the character and placed her into the frame but also filtering out the peripheral information which is now jettisoned. She then used a sharp cut to take us to a completely different scene in another location.

Most of the time, though, I have to say I was unaware of any strong establishing shots to frame the action for the audience at all and this way of following the character in a relatively close environment a lot of the time makes things somehow more intense and immediate while not giving the collective audience the little breaks and cut aways it’s used to. Which I found both fascinating and sometimes a little disorienting and I am assuming that disorientation was deliberate because...

Okay... this hopefully doesn’t amount to a spoiler but I said it gets twisty and turny and there’s a specific, big story point that’s not revealed until right towards the end of the picture. And the thing is, normally I would have seen this coming right away but, because the structure of the film involves constant flashbacks to linearly tell the back story of the main character, the real structure of the film is hidden from view... hidden in plain sight, in fact... from the audience and I suspect the constant use of close ups and so forth to begin various scenes and lead you to the story in a visually convoluted (or at least less than usual) way helps greatly with the directors very subtle and, timed just right, sleight of hand when she’s not being completely honest with certain elements of the way the story unfolds. And that’s all I’m going to say about this one, because I really don’t want to spoil it for first time viewers... other than to say that the cleverness of the story structure works hand in hand with the mise en scene and almost relies on an aspect of Nicole Kidman’s performance in a specific scene near the start of the film. Well, she totally sold it to me because it’s not something the audience has been primed to watch out for yet and Kidman plays a specific scene just right, so that there’s not even a hint that what we are watching is not always necessarily to be trusted, so to speak.

The other great thing about this movie is the incredible score. It’s absolutely stunning and shame on the powers that be for only giving this an electronic download release instead of the quality CD release this music so richly deserves... and, frankly, since this picture was released into cinemas in America towards the end of last year, I’m practically frothing at the mouth right now that this score wasn’t given an oscar nomination. It’s so striking and, almost subliminally at times, sets the viewer on edge and enhances the drama and, very much I think, the mindset of the film’s central protagonist at any given time. I didn’t know who I was listening to when I watched this but by the final quarter of the movie I had pretty much made my mind up that this thing must have been composed by Mica Levi... the score is that amazing and it seemed a perfect fit for her style. Imagine my surprise, then, when I stayed through some of the end credits to discover the music was composed by Theodore Shapiro (who did quite a good score for the Ghostbusters reboot a few years back). Shame on the Academy for not recognising the sheer power and resonance of this score and shame on the company for not putting out a CD release.

So, what more to say on this one? Brilliant performances all round, fantastic direction, genius editing, an absolute classic and powerful score and a central protagonist, perfectly played by Kidman, who’s mindset throughout the film is wildly unpredictable and who is bound to catch the audience off guard at various points in the unfolding of her story. If you are into thrillers or police procedural movies then, seriously, Destroyer is definitely the film to see this year. Pitch perfect on all levels and, though I wouldn’t normally do repeat viewings, I might have to rewatch this again when it comes out on Blu Ray so I can nitpick my way through the story structure and figure out just how the director managed to fool me on this one. Such a cool film and one which will, I’m sure, feature in many critical essays and articles in the coming decades. A truly great piece of cinema that reminds us just how much this medium is a true form of artistic expression. Go and see this masterpiece soonest.

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