Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) is a police detective at the end of her tether. She wakes up in her car parked under a bridge in Los Angeles, and gets out to see the other police have beaten her to the scene of a crime, where a man lies dead next to the storm drain, having been shot multiple times. They don't know who he is, but he does have a distinctive tattoo of three black dots on the back of his neck which may provide a clue. Bell thinks she knows who the culprit may be, but nobody is really interested in listening to her, having blotted her copybook too many times with her alcoholic behaviour to be taken seriously anymore. Yet she is determined to set things right, no matter what.
Destroyer was a title that could have just as well applied to its lead character's self-destruction as it could to her treatment of other people, and what we can tell from the off is that she is in a bad way, but more than that, she is probably well past any help that anyone else could have offered her. She cannot help herself, either, leaving you watching a story that hopped back and forth between the past and present until both merged at the final twist. You could be forgiven for not twigging this was a twist, however, as under Karyn Kusama's direction it unfolded in a woozy, staggering, sun-bleached manner suggesting the entire film was labouring under a bad case of sunstroke.
But it was Bell's corrupted state of mind that we were intended to be viewing these events through, a filter where everyone is potentially as bad as she is, and those who are not are possibly beyond saving, such as her estranged teenage daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) who has hooked up with an older boyfriend she is too rebellious to admit is exploiting her and doing her no good whatsoever. Meanwhile, in the flashbacks from almost twenty years before, Kidman looked more like herself even though she was playing younger than her years, for her character in the present was presented as a wreck and her makeup reflected that, a bushy, drab wig and grey, lined skin on her face.
Not to mention her hunched way of walking, though as the film progressed in its tricksy arrangement, we did come to realise the reason for this. If anything, Destroyer was overplaying its hand, attempting a far too elaborate structure in Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi's screenplay than it either needed or could even handle to any great satisfaction. About the most intriguing element was that here was a woman essaying the burnt out cop role instead of a man, and that was a boundary booted over, granted, but aside from Bell's maternal instincts latterly arising when she agrees with herself that she really should have been looking after Shelby, there was not much to distinguish her as a female protagonist that a male could not have achieved in the same role, and that was disappointing.
It was almost as if the script had been penned for a man, but someone had the bright idea of casting the Australian star against type and all uglied up for a hook to draw in the punters, which was odd for a start, as what kind of fan wants to see their favourite performer looking dreadful? Fair enough, Kidman was showing what she was made of thanks to thespian skills that were surely rarely in doubt, but for long stretches of this film you were left watching her trudge around as if suffering from the world's worst hangover, grumpily holding conversations with men who were largely interchangeable as awful people. In a couple of instances Kusama demonstrated what she was made of in tense heist sequences, and more of that - make it an action thriller, not a downbeat character study - could have lifted the enterprise into something a lot more vital. Who wouldn't want to see a middle-aged actress pose as a Charles Bronson type? It was a too-little explored avenue, for a female star to go the Taken route, and it wasn't explored here often enough. Music by Theodore Shapiro.