Destroyer

 

            You can see how this could happen.  A young woman grows up rough.  Decides to become a cop.  Signs up for the undercover work, because she believes she can be convincing as someone who has stepped over to the other side.  And she is convincing.  So much so that she convinces herself, to take just a little piece of the action.  She convinces her partner, too.  Chris (Sebastian Stan) has fallen in love with her, and he's going to do this for her.  They carefully rehearse how they're going to go through with the armed robbery, then take their cut and stash it.  Go back to police work, pretend everything's normal, and when all the furor quiets down, resign.  Take the money and run.  Just this one time, be on the other side of all the constant struggle.  Just one time.

            Nicole Kidman plays the part of Detective Erin Bell like she owns it.  Just like Detective Bell owns the whole sorry back story.  Things went south in that heist.  Chris was killed.  The gang broke up.  She made it back to safety, and returns to the job, but she was never the same.  Call it PTSD.  Call it a lot of guilt, but she didn't have time to wallow in the remorse.  She was pregnant with Chris' child.  Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) is sixteen now, but headed down the wrong path.  Though she's been living with Bell's ex, Ethan (Scoot McNairy), Shelby's Stepdad, he can't keep tabs on her, either.  She's skipping school and clubbing with a thug, Jay (Beau Knapp).  You can tell Shelby enjoys being the rebellious child, and having a passive aggressive kind of control over her mother that day.  And Detective Bell recognizes all the signs.  She did the same thing.

            She comes on like one of those stayed-out-too-late and didn't-freshen-up-this morning kind of tough gals.  A little bit of hitch to her step.  The 1,000-yeard stare.  The washed-out don't-mess-with-me attitude.  And nobody does.  Not even her partner, who seems to be a nice guy, which is why he doesn't understand.  The past has come back to haunt Erin Bell.  The leader of the old gang has emerged, and sent her a tainted bill sprayed with dye, just to let her know that he knows where she is.  Detective Bell has to do this dirty street work on her own.  She finds one of the old gang members, then finds out where the money's being funneled, then finds the same old girlfriend, now a druggie who resents being discarded for a younger version.  But Erin Bell pays a price for all of it, just as she paid a price when she made her fateful decision all those years ago to play with fire.

            This is a gritty movie.  Nobody's happy.  The language is atrocious, as you might expect.  What passes for a sex scene is just sad and desultory.  It's violent and it runs roughshod over genteel sensibilities.  But Nicole Kidman's performance is hauntingly memorable.  And it deserves to be recognized.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association