Karyn Kusama / USA / 2018 / 123 mins
At Edinburgh Filmhouse until Fri 12 April 2019
The corrupt cop genre has built up a long list of movies over the years, from Dirty Harry to Cop Land, Serpico to Bad Lieutenant, and now Destroyer. The genre has given birth to some of the most iconic characters in cinema, such as the titular Frank Serpico and Harry Callahan, so it is safe to say that both Karyn Kusama and Nicole Kidman did not have an easy task on their hands.
The story follows the moral and existential odyssey of LAPD detective Erin Bell (Kidman) who, as a young cop, was placed undercover with a gang in the Californian desert with ultimately tragic results. When the leader of the gang re-emerges in Erin’s life years later, she must work her way back through the remaining members, and into her own history, to finally reckon with the demons that destroyed her past.
Without a doubt the main talking point of the film is Kidman’s transformation in to the character. Whilst the makeup department do a wonderful job in making Kidman almost completely unrecognisable, within the context of the film itself it can sometimes seem a little too much, exaggerated, meaning that occasionally the viewer is taken out of the film due to seeing an actor clearly in makeup rather than a character going about their life, all of which weighs down Kidman’s already wooden performance.
The screenplay is the biggest let down, reading like a bog standard cop movie. The script follows a fractured narrative, jumping back and forth between present day and the flashbacks of the protagonist. The flashbacks start off intriguingly, the character’s present promises a sinister past, yet what is revealed to have haunted her for all these years simply does not live up to what was set up, causing the entire backbone of the story to collapse and rendering everything else pointless. Whilst the scriptwriting really picks up in the second half of the film, even finishing off things with a very solid ending, it can’t save the movie.
Karyn Kusama has proven her talents before with both Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation, but sadly the same can’t be said for her latest feature. Whilst Kusama’s direction throughout the film is undeniably good, it (much like the screenplay) does not pick up until the second half and it is simply not enough to reverse the damage done from the movie’s first half.