Image Credit: Annapurna Pictures

No matter how awful your life is, you’ll feel better about yourself after watching ‘Destroyer’. Every character in the film is worse off than you.

‘Destroyer’ scoffs at showing life’s underbelly. It revels in showing what lies underneath the underbelly.

Nicole Kidman, wearing make-up that makes it look like she isn’t wearing make-up, stars as Erin Bell, the world’s worst cop. Hung over when she isn’t drunk, needlessly violent and always unpleasant, she is apparently willing to do anything (ick) to catch her man. The only time she is even remotely sympathetic is one scene when she pleads for help — and even then she is lying.

The story by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi pogo-sticks back and forth in time to let us know that Erin’s world-weariness stems from an undercover operation 15 years ago that went wrong. The question of what happened on that day is only moderately compelling, and we figure out most of it long before it is revealed to us, making the climax anticlimactic.

The story swings into motion when the bad guy responsible for the tragic events comes out of hiding to challenge Erin. Why would he do such a risky thing? The only possible reason is that if he did not, we wouldn’t have a movie.

Kidman gives her all to the role, not just in the Oscar-seeking lack of glamour but also in her strenuously underplayed acting. It’s not a bad performance, but at no time do we forget that it is a performance.

Faring better is Bradley Whitford as a smooth but sleazy lawyer. It is a small part, but at least he has fun with it.

Otherwise, this is not a film that is concerned with fun, either for the characters or the audience. It is styled as a modern noir, or perhaps over-styled; the frequently under-lighted photography and muffled sound only make it difficult to see and hear. Director Karyn Kusama keeps the pace slow and our interest fairly low.

In some respects, ‘Destroyer’ plays like a movie that would ordinarily go straight to Showtime, and only a few things help it rise above that level to reach a state of mediocrity.

One is Kidman, who classes up most things she is in. Another is a well-shot and exquisitely tense scene inside a bank. And the third is a genuinely clever twist that serves as the movie’s only surprise.

Kidman’s character, Erin, is the destroyer of the title; she ruins the lives of everyone she encounters.

But there has to be more. If we are to spend two hours in her company, it would help if we liked her just a little.

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Don’t miss it

‘Destroyer’ releases in the UAE on January 31.