Local cinemas this week

Our Nic is bruised, battered and bad

Movie of the week: Destroyer

We’ve had plenty of male bad cops on screen before, but so far no female actors have been prepared to get down and dirty. If anyone was game enough to step up make that so-necessary “bold feminist statement” and get equal with us horrible men, surely that would be Nicole Kidman… She’s a gifted actress willing do anything. Maybe not masturbate in front of two young female drivers as Harvey Keitel so disgracefully did in 1992’s Bad Lieutenant. But, its fair to say, she does give Clint Eastwood’s vengeful renegade Dirty Harry a run for his money in Karyn Kusama’s tough and ultra-gritty neo-noir. And full marks to the make-up and CGI departments too. Most of the time the normally radiant Ms Kidman looks like she’s just emerged from a 24-hour shift down a coal mine.

As LA detective Erin Bell, her hair is stringy, her skin horrible, her eyes red rimmed with black circles, her lips damaged and she speaks with mumbling rasp while shuffling drunkenly around like she’s auditioning for a role in The Walking Dead. And that’s on the good days when she actually goes to work – although exactly how she’s held down a job as a senior cop for the last 17 years is a bit of a mystery. Clearly the LAPD has a workplace culture problem, for she appears to spend her days pissing everyone off while doing exactly as she pleases. She gives a hand job to a crippled source (who presumably can’t look after himself), terrorises another and then pistols whips a bent lawyer, all in three quick successive scenes. Go girl! The film opens with a mysterious body with a signature gangster tattoo dumped on the side of a canal, a sign that means something to her. “I know who did it,” she tells her colleagues. Instead of sharing the secret, she staggers away giving them the finger. Grade A teamwork, Detective Bell…

Both the film and the actress fling themselves into the story’s nihilistic grubby milieu with gusto, and it’s told in two separate time frames – the earlier one 17 years prior when Bell was partnered undercover with another cop Chris (Sebastian Stan, left below).

Then they were infiltrating a gang of ultra violent toughs lead by by a malevolent cult-like leader called Silas (Toby Kebbell), and clearly something went wrong with their op – something that turned the young rookie into the wreck she is today. She got pregnant back then too, the result being the present day daughter (Jade Pettyjohn) she’s made a spectacular flop of raising. There’s a lot of time and scene flipping, and audiences do have to do some heavy lifting in fitting all the pieces together. That’s the satisfying, and wholly successful part of this quite remarkable noir – rather more so than the “brave” and remarkable performance you’ll hear so much about. It is those things, Ms Kidman works incredibly hard and you can’t keep your eyes off her. But that’s the thing – it’s so intense the character she’s portraying recedes into the distance. And you just can’t shake the knowledge, that under all that sleaze – there she is, still “our Nic.”   MA15+ from Mar 21. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Broadway, Burwood and Dendy Newtown ★★★★ View the trailer

Fighting With My Family

There are a couple of things that raise Stephen Merchant’s bio-pic of a real-life UK female wrestler who worked with the stage name  “Paige” (Florence Pugh) above hundreds of other products that have come out of the “inspirational sports movies” factory. For a start there’s Pugh’s feisty firecracker of a performance itself, the flashes of Merchant’s deadpan wit (he’s co-creator of the original UK The Office, and has a small performance role), and the novelty of seeing Lena Headey (far left) as anything other than Queen Cersei Baratheon Lannister (she actually has a very long filmography – of titles no one has ever heard of).

There are two entertainingly showy cameos featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson sending himself up too. But it’s not enough. Pretty well all the predictable clichés of the genre make their presence known, (the plucky underdog/the big unlikely break/does she have what it takes/will she blow it) plus all the usual grating platitudes we’ve come to know and expect. The film does nothing to convince those who think WWE wrestling isn’t really a sport but just rigged bad acting anyway. In order to root for someone to win, shouldn’t we believe that it all isn’t just a sham in the first place? M from Mar 21. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central, Broadway, Burwood and Rhodes. ★★1/2

Also opening this week

Strangely enough, there are two movies this week featuring 40-something depressed men (is there any other sort at that age?) in the throes of mid-life crises who solve their problems by joining men-only synchronised swimming teams. There’s France’s Sink or Swim at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival and also Britain’s Swimming with Men starring Rob Brydon on  general release. The publicity for both reference The Full Monty, which should warn us that the blokes will probably get their kit off… Despite having near identical plots and themes, the two films don’t appear to be related. Is male synchronised swimming is having a “moment” at present? Certainly 40-something white men aren’t. Both not previewed.

Sure, everyone liked the original Lego Movie (I did, it was awesome!), but after the inevitable spin-offs, a TV show and now a bewildering schedule of cumbersomely named sequels, most of the goodwill it generated amongst parents normally suspicious of shameless product merchandising is dwindling away. In The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Bricksburg – now a bleak post apocalyptic metropolis – is invaded by Duplo aliens. Can Emmett (Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett) fight them off and rebuilt their sequel (err, city)? What a stupid question. PG from Mar 21. At Dendy Newtown and everywhere else.

Reviews – Russell Edwards