Destroyer Karyn Kusama (USA 2018)

Destroyer Karyn Kusama (USA 2018)

Destroyer        Karyn Kusama (USA 2018) Nicole Kidman

viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 Jan 2019; ticket £10.75

not ‘noir’ but ‘see through’


When fitting up big female Stars to front its movies it seems that the best Hollywood can come up with are retreads of tired old scripts. Destroyer’s plot design is lifted from one of the oldest motifs in the ‘tec litany: drummed out suspended cop pursues personal revenge. A replay of the Big Heat idea (and many another ‘noir’ film), but whereas Lang’s movie with its tightly scripted tensions, sharp cinematography and edgy playing (in particular Gloria Graham) still views as something fresh, Destroyer feels old and played and with few of the attributes to justify its proclaimed ‘noir’ provenance.

Hollywood mainly offers to its women stars the chance to play men. Because that is what Nicole Kidman is asked to do. Perhaps it’s what she wants to do. But the consequence is that Kasuma’s movie just goes through the usual motions, the usual gestures calling up familiar scenes familiar characters familiar coping mechanisms playing on the deluded premise that because there’s a a female lead, ‘Destroyer’ is somehow different. It’s not.

As if to affirm the hackneyed nature of this male grounded scenario, a scene in a toilet stall is de rigeur. (There is also the obligatory ‘handjob’ scene, not so much a sort of endorsement of Kindman’s traits as a woman, rather a female rite de passage in Hollywood movies these days). Having avoided lavatories for most of its history, Hollywood is bent of making amends big time; whether or not the toilet has any relevance or meaning to anything happening in the script. (Likewise the handjob scenes).

Of course giving the females the chance to play men, saves anyone the trouble of actually thinking about writing scripting or working out a scenario in which a woman would be a movie cop without having to be play the role as if a man. At this point of realisation there would be the possibility of developing different kinds of role models. But this is highly unoriginal movie, without ambition. The Kusama’s script uses the old device of the investigator working her way through the lower echelons of the gangster hierarchy to extract the information that will lead to ‘the Big Cheese’. A Chandler plot stand-by, but in his case ennobled by his sense of pace, throw away philosophy and command of language.

The same cannot be said of ‘Destroyer’. As directed by Kusama it is a monopaced stroll; her scenario and its consequent editing lack tensions; the cinematography is mundane barely work-a-day without a single moment of distinction.

Destroyer’s script and characterisations simply replay the old cop tropes in an unoriginal fashion. Even the script’s flashback structure lacks conviction. This has something to do with the two faces of Kidman that the script separates by some 16 years. Although people today wear age comparitively lightly, in particular Westerners, for some reason the decision was taken to go over the top with the prosthetic skin job on Kidman’s face. When Kusama cuts to her in the film’s present tense, it’s as if we have shifted into another film with a scenario set in some hospital based drama involving patients from the severe burns unit. The skin seems to be sloughing off Kidman’s face. This radical change in appearance in fact creates a barrier to relating the two faces of Kidman as having the same identity.

There seem to have been two attempts to rescue the movie. One scripted, with a bolt on subprime subplot about Kidman’s relationship with her daughter. An attempt to rescue Kidman’s gender by interposing into the script some scenes of her as mother. In the same way that ‘Destroyer’ (An unconvincing movie title pointing to an agent {Kidman?} in a way that is meaningless) is not a film noir, just a film that portends to mimic noir without understanding what it is, so the mother – daughter subplot is also attempt to import a little bit of Spielberg into the procedings. An attempt that is crassly scripted and ultimately does no more than stretch out the movie.

The second attempt to rescue the film comes from the sound edit. The film is accompanied by an overwhelmingly oppressive electronic track. The purpose of the soundtrack seems to be to bludgeon the viewer into insensibility, to drown out any semblance of a critical faculty in the viewers, leaving them witless.

Film Noir may have many diffferent understandings. I associate it with tensions that run along different dimensions, tensions: between dark and light; between male and female; between desire and ideals; between the truth and the lie. Destroyer has none of these attributes. It is a transparent product with a mechanical plot, a plodding vehicle for Kidman to assume a male tic.

adrin neatrour










Author: Star & Shadow

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