Kidman plays Erin Bell, a police detective ground down by years on the job, booze and the haunting memory of a case going wrong. When we first meet her she’s on the scene of a crime. When she spots a familiar tattoo on the victim she realizes a former adversary is back in town. It’s Silas (Toby Kebbell), a mini-Manson who controls his people through intimidation and drugs. “He’s either cleaning up,” she says, “or restarting again.“
To get to the bottom of the latest murder she begins an investigation that forces her to confront her behaviour on a long ago undercover case. The case puts her at odds with her estranged daughter (Jade Pettyjohn) and draws her down a path populated by increasingly sleazy characters including a crooked lawyer (Bradley Whitford) who tells her she is sad and stupid for revisiting the past and Petra (Tatiana Maslany), a drug addict and direct link to Silas. It’s dangerous territory, but she is undaunted. “I don’t care what happens to me,” she says. Eventually the past, told through flashbacks, catches up with the present filling in the details of how Erin ended up where she is today.
At the heart of “Destroyer” is a complex moral question, Can you ever really pay for the sins of your past? It mostly goes unanswered, although her actions hint at some sort of uneasy resolution. In the end it is obvious that while she may be trying to do the right thing, it seems likely she’ll end up in a bad way.
Kidman is in full-blown anti-heroine mode. You can practically smell the stale breath; feel her pounding hangover headaches. She’s in rough shape, the result of a lifetime of bad decisions. Kidman does a Herculean job of brushing aside any likable traits in Erin and adds a few interesting flourishes as she paints the portrait of this troubled woman but overall the result is mostly a paint by numbers picture you’ve seen before in other hard boiled crime dramas.
“Destroyer” is a gritty drama that, despite Kidman’s makeup, doesn’t change the complexion of similar stories in other movies.