“You Chose To Play Cops And Robbers. And You Lost…”
Ending the year as Queen of Atlantis in Aquaman, the ever reliable Nicole Kidman begins 2019 with a completely different and polar opposite performance as the Aussie takes the lead role in Destroyer, the latest feature from American filmmaker, Karyn Kusama, whose previous credits include the recent cult favourite, Jennifer’s Body, and the all-female directed anthology horror movie, XX. Part noir crime thriller, part sanctimonious art-house reject, Kusama’s latest is a particularly odd beast, a grungy, overly depressing character study which sees Kidman as LAPD detective, Erin Bell, a worn out, angst ridden alcoholic who stumbles across the death of an unidentified criminal and soon becomes entangled in a dark underground plot which sees the resurfacing of Toby Kebbell’s (Dead Man’s Shoes) murderous gang leader whom Bell previously infiltrated undercover many years previous. With many critics focusing on the transformation of Kidman in the lead role as the standout highlight of the piece, the fact that five minutes in I began to laugh at the awfulness of the Australian’s facial stiffness probably was a strange sign of things to come, and whilst Kusama’s latest features some bold attempts at greatness, Destroyer is ultimately a downbeat, overly plodding and uninspiring drama which dreams big but can only be classed as a unforgettable failure.
Utilising two different time frames to enhance and develop the background behind Kidman’s character, the contemporary setting sees her manage to strike a odd balance between an extra off The Walking Dead and Johnny Depp’s performance as James Bulger in Black Mass, with a gallon of rough edge makeup, a seemingly awful visit to some Sweeney Todd-esque barber and a leather jacket the standout elements of a performance which I’m sorry to report, just seems so superficial and phoney, the story just becomes irrelevant everytime Kidman appears on screen due to her image just coming off as too damn distracting. Whilst the first half of the narrative ultimately becomes too irritating to truly be engaged with, the second time zone in which we see a younger and less painted Kidman infiltrate Kebbell’s stone free gang of dangerous misfits is undoubtedly the more interesting of the two, particularly with the added charisman of Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Infinity War) as her partner in both undercover and romantic sense, who out of everyone in the entire film, was the most pleasing and interesting to be around and arguably could have been the focus of the movie in the first place. Stan aside, Destroyer also sees one of the most obvious miscasting decisions this year in the form of Kebbell as the mousy haired ring leader, a character as threatening as the unicorn from Despicable Me, whilst attempts at building wavering familial relations with a strange subplot involving Bell’s daughter and her asshole boyfriend fails to spark at all, culminating in a concluding monologue about parental responsibility and mountain climbing which nearly sent me straight to sleep. Ending with a Shyamalan sized twist which still has me wondering whether it was genius or actually quite ridiculous, Destroyer is one of the most depressing two hours you may spend at the cinema this year but hey, if you fancy being in the company of hateful characters for two hours, Kidman’s latest may be the exact medicine for you.
Overall Score: 4/10
“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”
Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.
Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.