First Hit: Powerfully acted by Nicole Kidman in a story that teeters on the edge of oblivion at every turn.
After seeing Kidman in this film, I was struck by how amazing she is at morphing from innocent intense, edgy beauty, to a hollowed out, full of anger, women with one thing on her mind, revenge. When we see her becoming an undercover agent, I was reminded of this freckled face beauty in an early film, “Dead Calm.”
The film floats in and out of time. At first, we meet Erin Bell (Kidman) as a depraved, starved, focused angry addicted detective. Then we go back to seventeen years earlier when, as a brave, intense, and attractive police officer being assigned to work undercover with Chris (Sebastian Stan) to reign in a cult-like leader, Silas (Toby Kebbell), who robs banks.
Opening with a depraved Detective Bell walking onto a murder scene; she’s barely able to walk let alone articulate why she’s there. The officers at the scene, probe her, asking why she is there, and what she knows about it. She picks up a $100 bill that’s tainted with purple dye. She looks at a handgun that has been altered to be untraceable and says to the responding officers “I know who killed him.”
Beginning the story this way and Bell’s response lead you to believe, she’s now on a path to find and finish something that started many years earlier, to kill Silas.
Earlier, when Bell and Chris are fully embedded in the gang, they help plan to rob an out of the way bank that is supposed to have millions in their vaults. The film slowly uses these flashbacks to show how Chris and Erin began to care about each other and decisions they made that explain the hollowed, revenge-driven Bell and her goal to find and kill Silas.
At first, I didn’t entirely engage with the use of the flashbacks as used here; however as the film progressed, I found this process exciting and engaging. We learn of Erin’s discovery that she is pregnant. We see her attempting to have a relationship with her angry, rebellious fifteen-year-old daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) who lives with her stepfather.
In her search for Silas, she meets up with Toby (James Jordan), one of the former members of Silas’s gang. Toby has just been released from prison because he’s soon to die from cancer. Attempting to get information from Toby, Bell manually stimulates him to orgasm to get a name and location of another member of Silas’s gang.
Her search has her engaging with Petra (Tatiana Maslany) a former rich girl who falls into Silas’ spell. She bursts into the residence of a wealthy criminal attorney name DiFranco (Bradley Whitford) whom she suspects of laundering money for Silas.
The depraved intensity of Bell to complete her revenge on Silas after years of pain were etched on her face throughout the film. However, I felt the zenith of the superb acting in this film came at the last meeting of Erin and Shelby.
As Bell does her best to tell her daughter, who she barely knows, that she loves her, Shelby parries Bell’s attempts until a moment of realization that her mom is doing her best and does care. Shelby’s facial expressions and subtle movement towards the opening, were profoundly sublime as were Bells. Amazing scene.
Kidman was beyond profoundly amazing. Her ability to show this level of gut-driven intensity for revenge is unparalleled. In this one film we see Kidman as a young vulnerable police woman and as a singularly focused emotionally debt driven hollowed out detective. Stan was terrific as her undercover partner who would do anything for his partner. Pettyjohn was dynamite in this role. I loved her rebellious nature, yet in the last conversation with her mom, watch her subtle movement from disdain to respect and feeling compassion towards her mother. It is one of the most elegant pieces of acting I’ve seen in a long time. Kebbell was reliable as the semi-cult leader. The challenge he created for one of the gang with the pistol was telling of his exercising power over the group. Maslany was excellent as the once rich girl who has lost her way and feels stuck with her role in life. Whitford is perfect as the ego-driven lawyer that has lost his way. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi wrote a compelling screenplay. Karyn Kusama got extraordinary performances from her cast and crew to create a fascinating story.
Overall: This is not a film of hope, but a movie about living with choices made and doing your best to the right the wrongs.