Last night I saw all of Karyn Kusama‘s Destroyer (Annapurna, 12.25) — the whole 123-minute package. And I felt just as dismayed and under-nourished as I did after catching the first 90 minutes worth in Telluride (“Pains of Hell,” 9.1.18).
I was kicked, beaten up, spat upon and slapped around for walking out before my Telluride screening ended, but my assessment this morning is exactly the same. It’s still a nihilistic, dispiriting renegade-cop noir that is mainly about how Nicole Kidman‘s burnt-out-zombie makeup.
It’s stylistically impressive — Kusama does well by the rules and expectations of the urban cop genre — but pretentious and labored, and at least 20 minutes too long.
Kidman plays Erin Bell, a wasted, walking-dead Los Angeles detective trying to settle some bad business and save her daughter from a life of crime and misery. And I’m sorry but the verdict is the same — she gives a fully-invested performance but at least 75% of Kidman’s dialogue disappears into the ether because she whispers it in a kind of raspy, breathy, throat-cancer tone of voice.
Every so often I would hear a word or make out a phrase, but the only way I’m going to fully understand what Bell was saying is when I watch Destroyer with subtitles. And no, it’s not my hearing. It’s Kusama telling Kidman “go ahead, do the raspy, whispery thing…I like it.”
Okay, the ending is reasonably satisfying — it ties the story together by linking back to the opening scene. I said to myself “okay, not bad…a decent way to wrap things up.”
Last night’s Savannah Film Festival screening happened at the SCAD Trustees theatre on Broughton. I left with a sense of completion and satisfaction. For I am perceptive enough to recognize a problematic film without seeing it all the way to the end. The 90 minutes that I experienced in Telluride were not and are not substantially different than the full-boat version that I saw last night.
Telluride repeat: “Destroyer has guns, uniformed cops, blood, a scene in the Westwood Federal building cafeteria, purple ink, ugly asshole criminals with sickening haircuts, drugs, a handjob given to a dying criminal slob, a bank shootout. Everything in this well-made if godforsaken film is scuzzy in a just-so way. Everyone and everything is covered in the stuff. Even I felt scuzzed out from my seat in the tenth row of the Herzog.
“Kidman and Kusama are basically saying to us, ‘Have you guys ever seen such a badass, hardass undercover female cop in your moviegoing life? Even in a zombie movie?’ HE answer: No, I’ve never seen a cop character who looks this wasted, this dead-to-the-world, this gutted, this excavated, this George Romero, this Bela Lugosi-ish. Hats off.
“Congrats also to costars Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Toby Kebbell, Scoot McNairy and Jade Pettyjohn. They all make you feel the way Kusama wants you to feel. They complete the effect.”