Nicole Kidman gives an admirably grungy performance in Destroyer

Director Karyn Kusama reunites with the writers of 2015’s The Invitation for cop thriller Destroyer, in cinemas this week (find times and tickets). Nicole Kidman plays a police detective, broken and battle-hardened, who attempts to reconnect with the members of a gang she infiltrated as a young undercover cop—a past that continues to haunt her.

As critic Matt Glasby explains, Kidman delivers another admirable performance in what is a fascinating character study.

Star power can be a dangerous, delicate thing, as director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) proves in this knotty cop thriller. On the one hand, subverting Nicole Kidman’s glamourous profile adds a bitter edge to every scene. On the other, it wipes everyone else out of the movie.

In a scuzzy, sun-baked LA recognisable from decades of LAPD and gang films, detective Erin Bell (Kidman) investigates a murder that’s closer to home than she’s letting on. With her low tones, bad hair and haunted eyes, she’s a broken woman, and the trail takes her back to her time as an undercover operative infiltrating a gang of armed robbers lead by the evil Silas (Toby Kebbell).

Whether tossing off a dying crook (James Jordan) in exchange for information, or paying off the boyfriend of her wayward daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), Kidman gives an admirably grungy performance. There’s capable support, too, from Scoot McNairy as Bell’s ex-husband, and Sebastian Stan as her former partner. The problems come when the film flicks back to that painful past.

Kebbell is a brilliant actor, but he’s saddled with an unconvincing mullet and underwritten dialogue so Silas never comes to life. The gang, meanwhile, are a bit too Point Break—all bleached hair and brewskis—so what should be key sequences lack the conviction of their present-day equivalents.

Thankfully, these more than make up the gap. A thumping bank heist recalls the work of Michael Mann minus the budget. And an ever-present sense of rot and regret brings to mind Joe Carnahan’s underrated debut Narc. What we’re left with is a fascinating character study that does more for Kidman than it does for the genre. But then, on this kind of form, she deserves it.