Staggering into view in the first minutes of Destroyer, Nicole Kidman looks worse than ashen – she looks like pure ash.
Sickly, dishevelled, hungover (or worse), with a voice that suggests death warmed up on a very low flame, she would scare away rats as a potential source of bubonic plague. You have to wonder, in fact, whether any actress needs to go to such lengths (as did Charlize Theron in Monster) to look this lousy.
But Kidman is an unusually strategic actress, with both the technique and intuition to deliver the correct emotional payload in any given scene. She can be trusted to make a challenging role work. Here, she’s Erin Bell, an LAPD detective whose life has been in an unrightable tailspin since an undercover operation went disastrously wrong.
Destroyer would have been better if director Karyn Kusama depicted this botched mission with as much detail as Kidman’s deterioration – in flashbacks, the gang that Bell infiltrates looks like a louche study group – but the story ends with a tough, surprising sting.
And Kidman, inviting us to stare at the mess she’s become, seems to stare not just back at us but through us and out onto some mysterious point on an unseen horizon. (Out now) 3 stars