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Karyn Kusama‘s Destroyer, a detective story starring Nicole Kidman, had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday and then screened again here Saturday. The dark drama divided critics and audiences in some respects, but attracted nearly universal applause for Kidman’s tour de force turn, which could return the 2003 Oscar winner to the best actress race.
In the film, which Annapurna is scheduled to release Christmas Day, Kidman plays a world-weary, mostly solitary L.A.-area private eye whose sorry present state (she looks, frankly, almost unrecognizably awful) is explained through flashbacks to her life many years earlier when she went undercover to infiltrate a gang for the FBI (in those scenes, she looks like one expects Kidman to look). In other words, Kidman does just the sort of de-glamorization to which Academy members have long responded, while commanding the screen for nearly every one of the film’s 123 minutes.
Like another noirish detective story 72 years ago, The Big Sleep, Destroyer unfolds in a way that, for me at least, isn’t always totally coherent but is never less than engaging. It could easily serve as the pilot for another installment of HBO’s True Detective, only with just a single detective at its center rather than a team, because this particular detective has a huge chip on her shoulder and can’t seem to get along with anyone else, from fellow law enforcement officers to her 16-year-old rebellious daughter.
Kusama made her name with 2000’s Girlfight, a film about a woman who gets knocked down often but tends to bounce right back up. Now, 18 years later, she has directed another film that fits that description, this one written by Phil Hay (Kusama’s husband) and Matt Manfredi, and produced by those two with Fred Berger (La La Land). While Destroyer perhaps could have been a bit shorter or featured better production value, its actors — especially Kidman, who is here at the fest on behalf of both this film and Boy Erased, but also, in much smaller roles, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany and Bradley Whitford — could not have been better.
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