Director Karyn Kusama has had a truly fascinating cinematic career. She exploded onto the scene with the award-winning Girlfight, which was soon followed by sci-fi dud Æon Flux and horror comedy oddity Jennifer's Body. When it looked like Kusama would never quite fulfil her early promise she returned to form with the terrifying The Invitation, one of the genre's best in recent years. It is genuinely fascinating to watch this director make a much-deserved comeback, and Destroyer continues to see her carve out an interesting path in genre cinema.
Straddling two timelines, the bulk of Destroyer follows a police detective as she works her way through the remnants of a gang she infiltrated nearly two decades ago. The film cuts back to this undercover investigation, as our protagonist becomes involved in the planning and execution of an ill-fated bank heist.
Destroyer is an odd film, straddling awards-worthy performances (Nicole Kidman gives a near career-best turn) with more conventional genre elements (cops and robbers). It makes it a compelling watch, even if at times it feels like it's taking itself too seriously. In a strong ensemble with the likes of Bradley Whitford, Scoot McNairy and Sebastian Stan all leaving an impression during limited screen time, it is Kidman who breaks through. Sporting unrecognisable (and at times distracting) make-up, the Oscar-winner often disappears into a physically demanding role. It is a shame that in a competitive field Kidman has been notably absent from the awards conversation. A late scene with her wayward daughter is particularly heartbreaking.
Occasionally Destroyer explodes into propulsive action sequences, at other times Kusama's experience with horror shines through, particularly as Kidman stalks a fleeing suspect through the LA undergrowth. If its narrative feels familiar, stylistically it feels fresh and unique. Julie Kirkwood's striking cinematographer distinctively separates the two timelines, giving the present muted colours, whilst bathing the past in warmth. The repetition of framing of shots across scenes is fascinating, making Destroyer a visually engaging experience. Theodore Shapiro's score is its own character, fostering a danger that is rarely absent from the film.
One of the loudest conversations that this year's Oscar nominations has garnered is the absence of female creatives in numerous categories. No women are nominated for direction, cinematography, editing or music, and it feels genuinely perplexing that this is the case. There are numerous creatives that could be elevated and have not been, with the Academy missing the moment. Destroyer is a perfect example of a talented director being ignored. It is a prickly film for sure and maybe it is too much a genre piece to garner nominations. But it is one I heartily recommend you seek out. You will be rewarded for your efforts.