A hardboiled LA neo-noir with a tough female lead and a cool female director is hardly par for the course in today’s Hollywood. Which is why Karyn Kusama was full of praise for distributor Annapurna at the company’s panel today while discussing her new film Destroyer with her star Nicole Kidman.
“They’re mavericks,” she said. “And in many respects, this movie reflects that. This movie is kind of a maverick outlier and so’s Annapurna. They support artists and they really work with filmmakers. That’s the goal of that company: to just work with one filmmaker after another that they really love.”
Written by Kusama’s husband Phil Hay and his writing partner Matt Manfredi, Destroyer tells the story of a former undercover cop coming to terms with a traumatic past and finds Kusama exploring the hidden pockets of her adopted hometown.
“I’ve lived in LA now for close to 15 years,” she told Deadline’s Joe Utichi. “And I’ve really fallen in love with the city. What I’ve fallen in love with are its contradictions. I think we have a highly photographed version of LA that just sort of checks off every box of every kind of expectation or stereotype. But what I’ve found in living in LA is that it’s an incredibly international city. It’s incredibly complicated and there was something really exciting about being able to see a different kind of LA, the grittier side of it, the side that had unexpected pockets of beauty and unexpected moments of visual grace that sort of creep up on you.”
Was Michael Mann an influence? “Well,” she said, “it’s hard not to make movies in Los Angeles without thinking about some of the great Michael Mann films. Although, as a trio, me, Phil, and Matt are more inspired by the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, and we really looked to movies like Klute and The Parallax View and The French Connection as touchstones. Films like [Michael Mann’s films] Heat, of course, informed things visually and in a tonal way too. But for me, on the one hand, although I’m always looking to honor my heroes – on the other hand, I also want to find my own cinematic language.”
The idea of making a ’70s-tinged thriller is what appealed to Kidman as well. “I was interested in the idea of doing the kind of film that’s usually centered around a man,” she said. “I grew up watching those ‘70s noir crime thrillers, and they were always male-centric. And suddenly, there was this script that was going to be directed by a woman that had this incredibly complicated, shameful, angry female at its center. I could feel her humanity. I could feel what she was trying to recover from and what she was trying to heal in her life. And that was compelling. It’s something I’d never done before, and I’m always looking for things [like that] – not just because I want to do something I haven’t done before, but because it was something that I felt the urge to do from within.”
“It just broke my heart when I read it,” she continued. “The idea of a mother who’s done things that can never be taken back, that has life-long scars, but she still is trying to apologize. It breaks my heart because I’ve seen that and I’ve been around that. I’m sure everyone in this room has either experienced it, or been around it, or has a family member [like that], where there’s been things that have been done that can never be healed, but there’s terrible remorse and there’s terrible shame and there’s still a good person fighting to come out.”
Asked what she thought about the film had to say about the state of the world today, Kusama declined to be explicit. “I have my feelings about where we are as a nation and as a player on the global stage,” she said. “But what this movie is really about is the drama and the sacrifice of being morally accountable. We witness a character deciding to take personal responsibility for her past, for her mistakes, for her actions, and it comes at a very high price. But it is the saving grace, I hope, of the film, that she does become morally accountable. She decides to come clean and own up and look in the mirror and say, ‘This is who I am.’”
“And I do wonder about the times we’re living in,” she concluded. “If we need to be doing that as a culture, as people, as individuals, as communities. What can we do to just get closer to being responsible to ourselves and to the families we live in and the governments we build? It’s a tough ask, apparently. But I think we’re really overdue for a hard look in the mirror. And that’s what this film is sort of attempting to give back to the audience: a really hard look in the mirror.”