'Destroyer' features Nicole Kidman at the peak of her powers [TIFF]

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De-glamming has all but becomes a cliche for well-known actors and actresses to nab that ever elusive acting Oscar. We saw it with Charlize Theron in "Monster" and Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball," among many others. Nicole Kidman also donned that infamous nose prosthetic for her 2003 Oscar-winning performance in "The Hours," but now she's back at it again, de-glammed and uglified, in "Destroyer," which is the best work she's done in years, maybe ever.

Kidman's LAPD cop Erin Bell is introduced to us as she arrives at a murder scene, she looks beaten down by life, almost uninterested in the case at hand, it doesn't help that Kusama's camera has a closeup of her coffee which seems to have cocaine mixed in with the java. The crime scene immediately brings back memories for Bell. In flashbacks, we see why. 17 years ago she and her partner Chris spent months undercover with a gang of criminals which she suspects this body is connected to.

As the film goes back and forth, between past and present, we start to learn more about what happened in the botched undercover operation, the answers we learn explain why, in the present day, Bell looks like a freight train just hit her face.

Kidman's downtrodden mug, filled with scars and wrinkles, no doubt due to severe alcoholism and drug use over the years, is used by Kusama to build up character. Instead of feeling like a gimmick, the makeup on Kidman actually feels quite right in this contemporary and gritty noir set in the dingiest parts of L.A. Bell is a character that could grow on audiences for years to come, filled with both tenderness and rage, this dirty cop is an anti-hero with a lot of baggage. With repeat viewings, we come to understand that the inner demons that drive Bell's actions are done for redemptive purposes.

Kusama has built a considerable filmography since her 2000 debut "Girlfight," we'll pretend "Aeon Flux" never existed. With "Jennifer's Body" and especially "The Invitation" the talented writer-director has managed to find a cinematic voice that feels both gritty and sensitively attuned to character. 


In "Destroyer" Julie Kirkwood's photography helps Kusama in that regard, with visuals that feel both brooding and mysterious as Bell tracks through the noirish streets of an L.A. that feels both corrupt and brooding with crime syndicates. The piece-de-resistance sequences involve two separate bank robberies, set decades apart, which rank among the most thrilling action set-pieces this year.

Kusama gives us a dirty cop movie delivered via a woman's perspective. A groundbreaking idea that feels like a female version of "Bad Lieutenant"  If the screenplay by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi has weak spots, feeling contrived and stuffed with B-movie genre tropes, Kusama does break through with her strengths for atmospheric dread. However, it's Kidman, at 51-years-of-age, that delivers her best performance in more than two decades, she's devastating. [B]