(director: Karyn Kusama; screenwriters: Phil Hay/Matt Manfredi; cinematographer: Julie Kirkwood; editor: Plummy Tucker; music: Theodoe Shapiro; cast: Nicole Kidman (Erin Bell), Bradley Whitford (DiFranco), Sebastian Stan (Chris), Toby Kebell (Silas), Tatiana Maslany (Petra), Scoot McNairy (Ethan, Kidman’s husband), Toby Huss (Gil Lawson), James Jordan (Toby), McCabe Slye (Ryan), Joseph Fatu (Taz), Shamier Anderson (Antonio), Zach Villa (Arturo), Bradley Whitford (DiFranco), Beau Knapp (Jay), Jade Pettyjohn (Shelby); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Fred Berger/Phil Hay/Matt Manfredi; Annapurna; 2018)

“Unsettling, twisty and bleak noir set in L.A. about a mentally tortured and physically run down nasty detective.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Karyn Kusama (“Aeon Flux”/”The Invitation”) helms this unsettling, twisty and bleak noir set in L.A. about a mentally tortured and physically run down nasty detective. It’s an anti-establishment crime drama they used to make in the ’70s. It’s underwritten by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, who leave it mostly as an acting vehicle for its star Nicole Kidman to shine in as a Dirty Harry figure. The camera veers back and forth from the present to the past by using flashbacks, showing us when Kidman looked good in the past to looking ugly in the present. The LAPD detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) worked 16 years ago as a young FBI cadet in an undercover FBI sting with her lover Chris (Sebastian Stan). They infiltrated a gang and stayed with them in the California desert. The mission turned tragic after a Palm Beach bank robbery by the gang that left Bell scarred for life. When the dangerous leader of that gang, Silas (Toby Kebell), re-emerges 16 years later, Bell, now a veteran LA detective must re-examine her own history to finally confront the demons that destroyed her and also confront all the gang members who ruined her life. The haunted Bell has a rebellious teenage daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) she has neglected and who can’t stand her. Bell, who looks and feels like shit (thanks to a gray wig, smudge marks over her eyes and a good makeup job of making her look ugly). When an unidentified dead body with a packet of dyed money by his side is investigated by detectives, Bell comes by to taunt them she may know the killer. Before this incident Bell received a package containing dyed money and thereby knows the vicious bank robber Silas, who escaped from the sting, is back in Los Angeles, and she’s obsessed with finding him to take back her life. Its most memorable scene has Kidman verbally and physically fighting it out with the money-laundering shit-faced lawyer (Bradley Whitford), as she hunts down all the gang members and Silas’s rich girl-friend Petra (Tatiana Maslany). The most vile scene has Bell jerking off a just released from prison dying gang member (James Jordan) to get information. The dark thriller is probably best suited for those who favor gritty hardcore violent pics and a plot that calls for the viewer to figure it out for themselves without help from the director. There are questionable ethical issues to consider and sore points in the narrative that don’t quite add up. It’s an uneven film that travels down a noir road but not deep enough. What is unquestioned is the testy acting of the 51-year-old Kidman, winner of a Best Actress Oscar as Virginia Woolf in The Hours, who plays it hard, tough and ugly–the kind of grizzled detective role she never played before and one that women rarely play.