Nicole Kidman underwent a stark transformation for her role as LAPD detective Erin Bell in the new film Destroyer. Annapurna Pictures

ON FILM: Nicole Kidman digs deep in her new starring role

Monday reviewer Robert Moyes talks about Destroyer, the latest film to ditch star beauty for story

By Robert Moyes

Monday Magazine film columnist

Although many male stars have no qualms about transforming themselves into physically unattractive characters – think Viggo Mortensen as a big-bellied redneck in Green Book or Tom Cruise in a fat suit and very bad hair as a slimy movie producer in Tropic Thunder – it’s much less common for actresses to completely jettison their beauty. Charlize Theron notably won an Oscar for portraying white-trash serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, and now Nicole Kidman has similarly “deglammed” herself to shocking effect in Destroyer, a dark and twisty police drama set in Los Angeles.

When Destroyer opens we see a virtually unrecognizable Kidman – there’s no makeup on her sun-damaged, mask-like face as she staggers, blank-eyed from last night’s boozing, down to a grisly murder scene. Kidman is Erin Bell, a veteran LAPD detective with a tragic past from which she has never recovered. Many years earlier she and a fellow undercover cop had infiltrated a gang of violent bank robbers … only to have their efforts go so bloodily, terribly awry that guilt has consumed her ever since.

The presiding cops don’t even try to conceal their disdain for Bell while pointing out that she has no jurisdiction in their investigation. For her part, Bell doesn’t let on that the far-from-innocent victim lying sprawled in a pool of blood links back to the long-ago case that ruined her life.

The rest of the film wallows in grimy noir details as it toggles between flashbacks of what happened when Bell was undercover and her current – and definitely unauthorized – efforts to track down and destroy the murderous gang leader who has suddenly popped up after years of being in the wind.

Destroyer is relentlessly grim and uncompromising, whether depicting Bell’s commitment to her brutal quest or her efforts to reach out to her angry and misbehaving teen daughter who’s been in her father’s sole custody for years. There are several scenes of bone-crunching violence that have an anti-Hollywood realism, while the industrial-sounding soundtrack seems meant to express the contamination in Bell’s soul. The Golden Globe-nominated Kidman is in virtually every frame of this film, and she effortlessly dominates this memorably downbeat piece of genre filmmaking. It’s not pretty, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Rating: ***1/2

Stars Nicole Kidman, Bradley Whitford, Tatiana Maslany

Directed by Karyn Kusama

COMING SOON:

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Provocative writer-director Jordan Peele (Get Out) has come up with a super-creepy premise: a vacationing family is being terrorized by … what seem to be clones of themselves. With Lupita Nyong’o and Elizabeth Moss.

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Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Channing Tatum and Will Arnett provide the voices in this amusing sequel to the very well built LEGO Movie.

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Producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) join forces for this combined live action and CGI-animated adaptation of the Japanese manga about a cyborg girl confronting her past. With Jennifer Connelly, Christoph Waltz and Michelle Rodriguez.

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An A-list cast including Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen and David Oyelowo star in this promising adaptation of the YA novel about a young man living on a space colony where all the women have seemingly been killed off by a virus. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity).

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