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« The Love That Dare Not Axe Murder Its Name | Main | Viola Davis has regrets about 'The Help' »
Wednesday
Sep122018

TIFF: Nicole Kidman and "Destroyer"

by Nathaniel R

One of the screenwriters of the sun-blasted crime thriller Destroyer, describes the movie as "a detective investigating herself." Allowing a screenwriter rather than the reviewer to pigeonhole their movie may be an abdication of duty, but an appropriate one; Destroyer has long gone rogue, flashing its badge but totally off the clock. Even the LAPD, which we all know has behavioral trouble of its own, wouldn't approve of Detective Erin Bell's (Nicole Kidman) "police work" in the real world.

You can't imagine that she'd still be allowed that badge given her AWOL behavior and frequent intoxication but realism isn't what Destroyer is after. Director Karyn Kusama, introducing the movie at TIFF told us to "enjoy" it, providing her own finger quotes around the word, betraying a welcome sense of humor which is unfortunately little seen within the film. But again, levity is not what this relentless film is after...

While Destroyer is dressed in familiar movie tropes and character types (troubled anti-hero cop, angry neglected kid, worried less reckless partner, nihilist villain, heist gone wrong, etcetera) to its credit, it manages to be its own experience. While there is a plot that you can piece together bit by bit, the movie is more of a doubled spiralling-descent character study than a traditional story. In both the present and the past, we're in ticking time bomb mode. In the present, it's clear that Bell is the time-bomb. From the visual evidence, she hasn't slept in years and consists on little more than alcohol and regret. She walks with a strange faltering gait as if she'd keel over at any moment but for her dogged persistence and rage. She's investigating a man named Silas (Toby Kebbell) who she fears is back in criminal business after a long disappearing act. Sixteen years previously, as we see in alternating flashbacks, Bell went undercover with another officer (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate Silas's gang as they planned a big robbery.

We know from the beginning of the film that the heist will go spectacularly wrong having already seen the future Bell. She's a living ghost, wandering LA in her police car, haunting mostly herself... and occasionally former Silas associates like Petra (the memorably itchy Tatiana Maslany, also now worse for the wear in the present, though not as emphatically). The perpetually flipping contrast between Bell's younger vibrant self (which looks like our own Nicole Kidman) and this haggard shell of a person at first defies belief. Still, Kidman manages to tie the two women together as one individual with the same unnerving way of staring into the abyss, whereever she's looking. [Minor Spoiler] In one climactic scene, late in the film after tragedy strikes, the actress emits a scream so terrifying and ragged, so full of rage and self-loathing, that I fully understood how she was only a shell of herself thereafter. The sound carried everything good out with it, leaving only pain behind. [/Spoiler]  

Destroyer is always looking at itself, not wondering exactly how it got there, per se, but turning over the events again and again; investigation as self-punishment. This effect is amplified by the movie's strong cinematography by Julie Kirkwood, which continually blasts the characters with unforgiving sunshine and dials up the ice blue of Kidman's bloodshot eyes. In one of Destroyer's best scenes, Erin visits a lawyer (Bradley Whitford) who she believes is laundering money for Silas. He's not easily intimidated and mocks her relentless obsession with Silas's crimes. He tells her that the thing that separates the successful people from the mortals is that they know how to let things go and move on. Erin clearly can't and didn't come to his house for a self-help lecture, anyway. The rage in her haunted stare gets scarier with every beat though her eyes rarely move. It's unclear whether she's listening to him or to her inner demons howling, or both, but she hates the relentless noise and herself for listening at all. The scene is interminable and you never know when it will explode... only that it will. This is how Destroyer makes you feel: battered, unsettled, and eager to escape despite knowing that that's futile. It haunts.

Director Karyn Kusama reaches for mythological power in Destroyer, arguably too overtly, as the film carries a rather large sense of itself with its repetitions, eery soundscape, bravura star turn, grand suffering and death-wish. The blinding sun of Destroyer's memorable Los Angeles gaze might recall Icarus, flying too close to the sun, but its soul is all Prometheus. In the myth Prometheus having stolen from the gods, is chained to a rock where his insides will be eaten each day by an eagle for all eternity. Detective Bell needs neither gods for her sentencing nor eagle for tormenter; she chains herself to the past and devours.

Grade: B+
Oscar Chances: Nicole Kidman's Best Actress nomination would be a sure thing in a weaker yet. But she still has a great shot given the dual nature of the performance, pairing an impossible to miss external "transformance" with unforgiving internal acting. (Otherwise, the movie will likely be a tough sell with Oscar, given its genre and general misery.)

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Reader Comments (35)

I am really interested in seeing this but violence really turns me off. How violent is this movie?

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

Kidman is on a pretty insane run (and she already had a legendary career without the last two years). She's got the work ethic of Samuel L Jackson, but never coasts or repeats herself. How does she keep doing it? You can call it sacrilege if you want, but I think she's comfortably Meryl Streep' s closest competition for our greatest living actress.

Cate Blanchett must be wondering how Kidman so quickly shot past her and relegated her to the 2nd best Australian actress of her generation.lol!

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

Can't wait to see this.

Kidman is on a roll but it's a dark, depressing roll. I hope there's some comic texture to the Fox News movie.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMiz Miz

Widows and this one look so dark for the Academy that I even see Emily Blunt making it just to compensate!

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Very very excited to see this. My Nicole love was tested pretty aggressively over the last decade and it's so great to see her turning it around, taking on the kind of roles and making the kind of movies that made me love her in the first place. These days, even if the movie isn't great, it's hard for me not to at least respect someone getting behind the project as much as she does.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

The love never died.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I’ve never got ‘’it’’ with her, I feel like there’s a whole bunch of gay film nerds who are seeing something opposite to me when watching her act. Lion, Rabbit Hole, the Others, Dogville - good bordering on great performances... everything else is like emperor’s new clothes to me. If I wasn’t so convinced the answer is ‘nothing’ I’d be asking the TFE community what am I not seeing? But I guess the other side of having actresses you irrationally adore is having those you irrationally despise.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChoog

I should clarify I consider myself a ‘gay film nerd’ and I’m sure i’ll Watch (and probably hate) Destroyer.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChoog

dil

we don't need to put a cardi b/nicki minaj beef narrative to these two amazing actresses, why everybody do that when discussing female artists?
both blanchett and kidman are already legendary but still hard working actresses, you can see joy and commitment for their craft, it is just a pleasure to have both of them delivering great performances (or at least having fun) year after year, god bless australia!

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAni di

Drew -- i didn't actually find it that violent. There is violence in it but only here and there and its not gruesome even though it hurts (i.e. it's not "entertaining" violence... it's just occassionally people beating the shit out of each other). I found Widows more violent.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I can’t WAIT to see your chart updates after the fests, Nathaniel.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

Nat- Thank you for the response. Surprised to hear that Widows is more violent.
Still looking forward to seeing both movies. Love me both Nicole and Viola.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

I'm very excited for this one, even more-so after reading your reaction to it.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I actually would rate her Oscar chances in this as a longshot: it's a crime movie, audiences will ignore it (like most of her movies), and there is way too much competition from actresses in other films that are more in line with Oscar voter tastes (A Star is Born, The Wife, etc.).

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJF

@ dil

"Cate Blanchett must be wondering how Kidman so quickly shot past her and relegated her to the 2nd best Australian actress of her generation.lol!" <- interesting comment there

I love both, and I do follow their careers very closely.

let's examine say, the last 5 years (2013 - 2018) of Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman
(excluding the stage, TV, voice work, documentaries) and I will do my best to only point out the good moments

======================================================

BLANCHETT

2013 Blue Jasmine - Oscar win, great performance, total critical acclaim on the performance, BEST OF comments from critics and audiences alike, totally centrepiece, movie is very well-reviewed

2014 The Monuments Men

2014 The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

2015 Cinderella - perfectl campy evil, fun, a plethora of very memorable evil stepmother scenes and I've watched the movie only once; movie is well-reviewed, blockbuster; she should've been Best Supporting Actress nominated that year for this (along with the Carol nomination in Lead)

2015 Truth - another great performance, centrepiece, movie is well-reviewed

2015 Carol - another great performance, Oscar nomination, UNIVERSAL critical acclaim for the movie and performance

2016 Knight of Cups - absolutely wonderful cameo, she actually surprised me with her acting here and I had seen everything she'd ever done up to that point

2017 Song to Song

2017 Manifesto - well-reviewed movie, brutal display of her powers, Kidman has nothing like this on her resume, let's be honest; similarly to her Knight of Cups acting, there were scenes here where she truly surprised me, again

2017 Thor:Ragnarok - very well-reviewed blockbuster, fun, campy evil turn

2018 Ocean's 8

======================================

KIDMAN

2013 Stoker - wonderful "life tear you apart" scene, very memorable

2014 The Railway Man

2014 Before I go to Sleep

2015 Paddington - absolutely wonderful villain, very memorable, I've watched the film only once, movie is very well-reviewed, was hoping she'd get a Best Supporting Actress nod

2015 Strangerland

2015 Secret in their Eyes

2016 The Family Fang

2016 Genius

2016 Lion - Oscar nomination, absolutely great performance, well-reviewed movie

2017 Queen of the Desert

2017 The Beguiled - very well-reviewed movie

2017 The Killing of a Sacred Deer - very well-reviewed movie

2018 How to Talk to Girls at Parties

2018 Boy Erased - waiting for the official release, so no comments

2018 Destroyer - waiting for the official release, so no comments

=======================================================

Conclusion:

Blanchett objectively appears in better movies, works with better directors, and experiments more successfully. Blanchett does less movies. Blanchett does less bad movies.

Kidman also works with great directors but her actual contribution (acting, character, the way it was written, the way it was edited, you name it) to some of these very well or well reviewed movies is not really memorable to me. Kidman appears in a plethora of "seriously why are you there" movies? Kidman experiments more frequently, and less successfully.

Experimenting with directors is one thing, experimenting with directors and turning in a memorable performance is another thing.

Having said all of the above, I'd love to see Kidman win another Lead Oscar soon. She's great and deserves it.

Not this year though, we need Glenn Close to win (even if it's Julianne Moore-esque of a win) so that the nerd world (myself included) can calm down.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

JF - I agree with you. I would love for her to be nominated especially for atypical role like this. However, it seems that she is the sole bet for this movie and it's extremely hard to be the movie sole nominee without undeniable raves.
I think she is 7th or 8th at best behind Glenn, Gaga, McCarthy, lead of The Favorites, Davis, Aparicio and even Julia.
I would love to be proven wrong though.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

@Yavor.

Hey, I did say Kidman pumps "em out like Samuel L Jackson. Not everything will work.

But even so, I still think you are doing what you can to load this 2013-2018 thing in favor of Blanchett. Even starting the comparison from the year Blanchett won her 2nd Oscar, instead of the start of the decade (as would seem an obvious starting point) robs Kidman of 3 highly acclaimed award nominated performances in your comparison chart (the Oscar nominated Rabbit Hole, SAG nominated The Paperboy and Emmy nominated Hemingway and Gellhorn).

Speaking of Emmy, ignoring Kidman's galvanizing and brilliant TV work in Big Little Lies and Top Of The Lake: China Girl also ignoring key work to make a better case for Blanchett. I would not put Elizabeth Moss in a comparison with any film actress, and 'forget' to mention Mad Men, Top Of The Lake or The Handmaids Tale. Not sure why Kidman's genius level small screen work doesn't count.

And enough reviews are out for Destroyer and Boy Erased for us to form an idea as to they fit into her streak. Career best performance reviews for Destroyer, and Lion-level reviews for Boy Erased.

Even with some clunky films and missteps (a hazard for someone who works so much), Kidman feels so far ahead of Blanchett now in terms of acting achievemments this decade, that I wouldn"t even call it a close thing. Blanchett is mainly eating off the acclaim of Blue Jasmine and Carol. I'm sure she's having fun doing campy Marvel villains, lightweight Oceans 8 ensembles and Hobbit follow-up....But Kidman is lapping her on the track when it comes to go for broke coming up trumps in serious performance (and honestly, even some of the biggest Blanchett supporters considered Manifesto to be a diversionary gimmick, as opposed to open of her major performmanced. Changing make-up and wigs every 5 minutes for a museum instillation does not a great screen performance make. It's just showing off technique with little context. And Kidman could probably do the same, and I expect it'd still be seen as a gimmick with her as well.).

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

Poor Toni Collette. Will no one stan for her status as the greatest Australian actress of her generation?

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

People on this site use “legendary” and “brilliant”

Too easily. It really diminishes the real legends and brilliant actors.

September 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRdf

Carey Mulligan gives her tough competition but so far Nicole Kidman gives THE performance from TIFF.

To be fair, I haven't watched all that much! haha But it's my favourite performance thus far.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Clearly Cate Blanchett is more awarded than Nicole Kidman according to IMDb and has truly cemented her status in recent years, but who is the best actress of their generation is subject to personal preferences. I think it’s a bit unfair to exclude their stage and TV works when those take up a huge amount of time and account for their artistic paths quite a lot.

In the period YOU designated, Nicole Kidman was nominated for a Laurence Olivier, and Cate Blanchett a Tony, which is a tie. Kidman accomplished one of the most clean sweep of awards for her work on Big Little Lies against, unprecedentedly, three other Oscar winners, while Blanchett is nowhere near the TV radar. BUT let’s focus on their film career from 2013, the year Blanchett won her lead Oscar.

I’m not going to comment on their performances, so let’s just list the facts. Two of Kidman’s films are main competition entries of Berlinale, and two Cannes, each of the Cannes entries won a major award, along with an anniversary prize for Kidman who became the first actor and female to achieve that after directors Fellini, Chahine and Van Sant. Blanchett has one Berlin entry, and one Cannes, the award of which went to her co-star.

And on that “brutal display of Blanchett’s power” on Manifesto, Kidman does have something like that on her resume, an Olivier-nominated performance in a play called The Blue Room, where Kidman portrayed five different characters.

Blanchett does have fewer rotten movies, but I do not think they are objectively better-ask Tarantino! I would say Blanchett’s movies are more audience –friendly and Academy-friendly, but she has nothing on her resume that carries the same weight as Eyes Wide Shut, Dogville or even Moulin Rouge. Sure Blanchett has an Allen and a Scorsese, etc. But will people remember Blue Jasmine over Annie Hall, or The Aviator over Raging Bull? I seriously doubt it. Whether Blanchett works with better directors is to be debated, but Kidman is the one who works more internationally and truly supports less-known and female directors, while the last time Blanchett worked with a female director was in 2001, in contrast to what she proclaims here and there.

Blanchett is more strategic in choosing her projects, while Kidman is more impulsive to the point it’s reckless sometimes. Blanchett’s “experiments” on the condition that It’s mostly safe, while Kidman is all over the place. In the end, Blanchett operates within the boundaries defined by people like Kidman.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commentervamm

@ vamm

"In the end, Blanchett operates within the boundaries defined by people like Kidman."

I seriously doubt it that an actor sits down and thinks "what boundaries did my fellow, same age, same nationality actor define?"

and in that line of thought, what boundaries did a Kidman move and/or movie define that would provoke Blanchett to do a Coffee and Cigarettes 2003? that would provoke Blanchett to do an I'm not There 2007?

Also, who is the last person who did something like Manifesto?

I know we're all clinging to our biases, but talking about these things objectively, Kidman hasn't acted against herself (Coffee and Cigarettes), nor done a transformation like I'm not There.

Based on your logic, when one day Kidman does act against herself, or deliver a truly impressive transformation similar to I'm not There, we should say that she operates within territory already defined by Blanchett.

Lastly, the Allen / Scorsese examples are interesting. I've never liked Annie Hall, that was definitely many years before Blue Jasmine was released. But then using your own words, will anyone remember Rabbit Hole over Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Eyes Wide Shut over 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Beguiled over Lost in Translation? Dogville over Breaking the Waves? I seriously doubt it.

Personally, I'm often more impressed by performances (the character) than the movie as whole. That's why the praise about Kidman - the performance - in Sacred Deer and The Beguiled last year left me feeling weird. As I said earlier, experimenting with material and different directors is one thing, turning in a memorable performance is another.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@yavor

Eddie Murphy and many actors beside him have done the multiple character schtick many times. And they've done it in films with plots and well defined characters. If you are trying to sell Manifesto as one of the great acting achievements of the decade, you are fighting a losing battle.

As I said already, Manifesto was widely viewed as an indulgent gimmick for Blanchett to play dress up, not one of Blanchett's great film performances. She's playing caricatiures. Not characters. It's barely even a film. It's a museum installation piece edited into a film structure to make some extra money, but it was never meant to be one.

People love giving Blanchett awards. If Manifesto was the acting triumph you are trying to claim, she'd have been nominated all over the place. Not a single nomination for her anywhere in the world....because it was a shallow exercise. It did win best make-up at the German film awards, which sounds about fair.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

Just wanted to add that it's not Blanchett's fault that Manifesto isn't a great performance. But the writing and structure simply isn't there to allow her to give one, which makes sense as it was not actually conceived as a proper movie. It's just technique with little substance attached. We know she can do accents and has a good make-up artist, but that isn't enough. It's an odd curio in her filmography, but nothing more.

Acting wise for Blanchett this decade, her major achievements are Blue Jasmine and Carol. Not up there with her two biggies, but I'll rate Hanna and Truth as strong efforts.I'll be generous and add some of Blanchett's clear paycheck efforts, Cinderella and Thor:Ragnarok. And that's pretty much it.

Kidman has Rabbit Hole, The Paperboy, Hemingway and Gelhorn, Lion, Killing Of A Sacred Deer, Top Of The Lake: China Girl, Stoker, Paddington, The Beguiled, Big Little Lies, Destroyer and Boy Erased.

We got two years left, and I feel Kidman has probably already locked up this site's actress of decade citation.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

Even Tatiana Maslany has her own Manifesto!

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

@ dil

if you consider The Beguiled, Sacred Deer and Stoker (she has that one wonderful scene, yes) as movies where Kidman is memorable, and something which, acting wise, is shining on her resume, I think we're definitely speaking different languages.

Manifesto could not have won awards for acting because she plays tiny bits of characters, it's not a character. And she never bothered to campaign, actually.

Manifesto was very well-reviewed both by critics and audiences. Your bias is pretty clear. But sure, hate away. You're proving the hate in your very first post here.

@ cal, since you're going there, I'll indulge; everyone has a manifesto, I'm pretty sure you and I have one; few people have it on film that's liked by both critics and audiences. Kidman doesn't have one. Nor does she have an I'm not There or a Coffee & Cigarettes, if we're comparing levels of experimentation.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@ yavor

Fortunately, I don't have to rely on my bias or yours.

Kidman was named one of the 10 Best Actors of the year 2017 by the New York Times, specifically for her performances in The Beguiled and Killing Of A Sacred Deer.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/magazine/the-10-best-actors-of-the-year.html

That's not a minor distinction, coming fron one of the oldest and most revered/respected publications on the planet. So I'd be pretty having those two performances as memorable notches on my resume, if the New York Times could whittle down thousands of active film actors in that year, to say I was one of the 10 Best on the planet, based on those two performances.

You don't have to rate her in those films. They were both significant triumphs for her, as that NY Times citation suggests.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

@yavour

Also...you seem weirdly hung up on Kidman having her own multiple character gimmick performance, as if that's the ultimate proof of being a master thespian.lol!

Newsflash. It isn't.

Second Newsflash. Kidman has already done the multiple character schtick years before Blanchett ever attempted it....on stage. Which you'd presume is much harder to do than in a film. In one the most acclaimed stage performances of her career in The Blue Room ( that led to her being cast in Moulin Rouge and The Hours after the directors watched the play).

Kidman has to play 5 completey different characters and personas in.the running time of the play, from teenager to older woman. For her trouble she was nominated for Laurence Olivier award and won an Evening Standard Award. So why on earth does Kidman have to play multiple characters in a movie to prove she's done it? She's already done it in a far more difficult medium. I know you want to paint Blanchett as this experimental genius who did everything first, but do your research. Kidman has done this stuff already to award winning effect, nearly 20 years before Blanchett, and doesn't need to do it again for your pleasure.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

I find reading the past flew blogs like being in a boring school class. What has happened to this site??

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Why are you guys debating on that? It doesn’t matter! It looks like dick measuring contest! They are both great!

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAni

@ Ani, I agree it doesn't matter, that's why I pointed out in my last post that dil started with hate and is obviously continuing with the hate

oh @dil, about those "career best" reviews for Destroyer, read the Leah Greenblatt metacritic review?

"Kidman, to her credit, goes all in, but it’s hard to ignore the neon sign over her head that keeps flashing “See? I’m Acting!”"

Let's not get ahead of ourselves here and wait until Destroyer and Boy Erased are officially released.

I remember being hyper excited about Kidman's 2017 triplets (The Beguiled, Sacred Deer, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) but none of these films turned out to be as wonderful as I was hoping, and Kidman definitely didn't demonstrate anything above the ordinary in them.

I AM a person who absolutely wants to love everything Kidman does.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

@yavour

The general consensus is that Kidman is doing career best work in Destroyer. I could find a review for any number of career best performances from top actors that isnt fully onboard (including for Blanchett), but that's not the general consensus. So it's a bit silly, when you fully well know there are already dozens of reviews out there giving her performance sky high praise. We don't need to wait...there are enough reviews out.

Kidman defintely demonstrated something above ordinary in Sacred Deer and The Beguiled. They were masterclasses in controlled nuance on film....which isn't really a big strength of the more theatrical Blanchett, who would have given far broader performances in those movies. And hey, maybe it's simply because you prefer that broader style of acting that Blanchett tends to employ. But the NY Times didnt name Kidman one the 10 best Actors of 2017 for those roles, because she was doing nothing .

You don't have to keep pointing out how much you want to love Kidman's work. I don"t really care, as she gets plenty of credit for those performances from people that matter. Your feelings on her acclaimed work are not point. It's about simply giving basic credit for acclaimed performances that many people clearly found special or fascinating for their own reasons. I pointed out that the NY Times cited her as one of the 10 Best actors of 2017 for those performances, so for you to keep acting as if no one saw anything special in them, actually makes you the 'hater' you keep claiming me to be.

I find several Blanchett performances overrated, but I won't say they can't be considered memorable if enough people besides me thought it was.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdil

That Blanchett vs Kidman thing ?
No.
It's not even a competition.
Cate wins.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDg

And I say Nicole wins. See, it's that easy!
How 'bout we move on.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterWill

The whole Kidman vs Blanchett is incredibly dumb. Downright dumb. Two incredible actresses with talent, grace and grit who get posited against each other by folks, who likely should root for both of them,like football teams. Sit down and relax.

September 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

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