Thursday, December 05, 2019

Karyn Kusama's Destroyer: No

I like that Destroyer attempts to put a new kind of female character on the screen - the soul-scorched wretch played by Nicole Kidman is clearly inspired by figures like that played by Harvey Keitel in the original, Ferrara-directed Bad Lieutenant, but with fewer drugs, less nudity, and a prettier youthful self present in the film.

I like that Nicole Kidman is trying something different, too. I have no problem with her, think she can do fine work when well-used. I liked her just fine in Dogville, Eyes Wide Shut, Portrait of a Lady, and Dead Calm. There are a lot of films she's done that I have chosen not to see, and several films that she's starred in that I did see and didn't like much - even To Die For - but her work in those four films has long since sold me on her abilities.

However: I don't think either director Karyn Kusama or Kidman succeed in what they are trying to do in Destroyer. Whether Kidman is up for the role or not - whether she is to blame for the failure to bring her character to light, I do not know, since presumably some of the decisions made in framing the character are not hers. The prosthetic dirty upper teeth that she wears look ridiculous; I don't imagine it was her idea. She seems like she is unable to move her upper lip, maybe because said denture is ill fitting? And she has so much dirt and grime caked on her face that it started to remind me of that scene in Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break where someone starts describing the complex emotions allegedly flickering across the blank face of Keanu Reeves, because Bigelow, presumably, simply couldn't get a good enough performance out of the young Mr. Reeves ("look, he's just not getting this, can we just have someone describe how he's supposed to be feeling?"). That is, Kidman's excess makeup in the film seems like it's there compensating for something, like the inability to draw a sufficiently believable performance from the actress. People comparing the role to Charlize Theron in Monster are doing Theron an injustice, because Theron didn't just get grimy: she inhabited and sold her character. Kidman's revenge-driven, grief-mad, self-hating cop is so uni-dimensional throughout this film that we never buy her as a human being. The young actress who plays her daughter Shelby - Jade Pettyjohn, who I only know otherwise from the Deadwood movie - acts circles around Kidman. Kidman's good in the "flashback" scenes, is believable as a young, ambitious, and slightly bent undercover cop - but the hard-living, battle-scarred spectre she becomes? I just could not, for a minute, buy it. Sorry.

Plus there's just too much that evokes other films: Bad Lieutenant, Reservoir Dogs, Rush, even a minimal soundtrack that reminds one at times of parts of The Shining score... Add to which that the "surprise, we aren't actually telling this story in sequence" twist at the end comes across as shallow and gimmicky. Of COURSE the filmmakers manage to surprise you with their reveal - they know what's going on, and you don't. It doesn't enhance the narrative or the theme, it just takes you out of the story for a few minutes as you go back over what you've just seen and reassemble it with the withheld information in place. It's like the twist at the end of The Usual Suspects: it actually manages to detract from the things that were interesting about the film, make you realize that it is even less than you thought it was going to be. Again, it feels like over-compensation: "This story isn't interesting enough as it is, but what if we scramble bits around, but not let people know we're doing it?"


There are a couple of good moments in the writing. I like that one character invites Kidman to a prayer meeting then qualifies it - "it's not like we're handling serpents," or something like that. Witty. I like the cancer patient/ informant who wants to get paid off for giving information with a handjob. I like the bit about the owls. The film is well-photographed.

That's about all.  Best thing that may come out of it is that I may try to seek out and show my wife Girlfight, Kusama's first film, which remains my favourite of the work of hers I've seen. Michelle Rodriguez is also a different kind of female character, in that film, but unlike Kidman in Destroyer, she totally pulls it off.

1 comment:

Allan MacInnis said...

Remake of Papillon? Also no.