In Destroyer Nicole Kidman looks like a hot mess.
In the opening scene, her character, Los Angeles police detective Erin Bell, lumbers out of the car she slept in all night. She's got puffy, red eyes; dull, disheveled hair; no make-up.
Weather-beaten, she hobbles like a wounded animal on a concrete scene along the concrete bank of the LA River. The raspy-voiced cop in a black leather jacket peers at a corpse with tattoos.
"What about if I know who did this?" her character asks.
The movie flashes back to when she was undercover with a gang planning a heist. Now, she hunts at old nemesis. "
" Erin is complicated and damaged, angry, shameful, "Kidman says.
Her character is in every scene of the film.
"She's tough, and she's capable of fighting, and she's capable of using weapons," Kidman says. "And she's got demons as well."
Nicole Kidman is currently starring in three movies. She's the queen of Atlantis in Aquaman . She's a supportive mother in the drama Boy Erased .
She's a broken-down LAPD detective in Destroyer a dark thriller directed by Karyn Kusama. Kidman says that Kusama has been preparing for the role by watching footage of wild coyotes.
"These female coyotes with their younguns – and they're around at Silver Lake, around the reservoir – and they were [filmed] by drones, "Kidman says. And that actually really penetrated my performance, strangely enough. "
Her performance drew a rave from Claudia Puig, president of the LA Film Critics Association.
" This is definitely the anti Mary Poppins "Puig says. Nicole Kidman's performance is one of the best that she's ever given, and she's a very well-made thriller
"It's a pretty twisted and dark movie to watch on Christmas Day – but maybe the day after."
Sabrina Lantos / Annapurna Pictures
Detective Erin Bell chases down informants and travels through parts of Los Angeles. Destroyer : Skid Row, a colossal self-storage facility between freeways, at old Chinese diner in the gritty MacArthur Park area
As we are about to revisit locations from the movie, Kusama shares her vision of Los Angeles.
"Chaos, beauty, ugliness," she says. "Awe-aspiring transcendental grace." What makes Los Angeles so interesting is – it's just frankly a beautiful city. In fact, there are many things that are pretty hard to look at. And then you can find yourself in some sort of pocket of paradise. "
We walk up to a hidden patch of land where she shoots a chase scene at night. We climb a rickety wooden staircase to get to a ridge in Elysian Park. You can see the Hollywood sign and hear gunshots. [It's the LAPD academy firing range.]
With guns and a train in the distance, we walk through the forested area. The concrete trail is uneven, and graffiti is carved into the pine trees.
"There's prescription pill bottles and needles and old broken-down baby carriages," Kusama says. "I mean it's – it's an intense spot and it gets very intense."
We reach the top of the hill, where there's a grand vista: Dodger Stadium, with snow-capped mountains in the background. Turn around, and you see downtown LA.
"It's pretty great, right?" she says. "And yet, it's just abandoned."
Kusama's previous films include Girlfight (2000), which was about female boxers. She directed the supernatural horror comedy Jennifer's Body The Invitation .
Destroyer a "sunlit noir."
"Because so much of it is outside and it's just so blindingly bright," Kusama says. "Erin Bell proves to be both detective and femme fatale, which is an unusual, sort of turning-on-its-head of the convention." Because typically in traditional noirs, women are tremendous troublemakers and very important agents in the story, And they're never the lead. "
Kusama says Destroyer So harks back to film from the 1970s: Klute Taxi Driver Dog Day Afternoon. She sees that with her flawed, morally ambiguous, alienated, antiheroes.
She sees Destroyer in that same vein.
"It's much more about a feeling of despair, "Kusama says. This is my way of trying to grapple with it, because I like watching a character make some terrible mistakes and make a little bit of money in the first place. "
In a year where the biggest box office successes have starred superheroes and dinosaurs, Destroyer
Nina Gregory edited this story for broadcast.