Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Fares Fares, Vincent Cassel
Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Written By: Richard Price
Rating: R (US) Running Time: 2 hr 17 min
Adapted from the first in a trilogy of books by Tom Rob Smith, Child 44 follows a former MGB* agent, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), as he investigates a series of child killings in Stalin era Russia. A time when crimes such as these were thought to be impossible in the USSR (frequently referred to as paradise in this film), and something that only happened in corrupt western societies.
Child 44, strangely, doesn’t seem all that concerned with its own murder mystery plot. Opting instead to deliver a bloated introduction to Leo Demidov, while simultaneously skimming over the details that would help the audience understand the time and place the story is set in. I frequently wondered who was who, and why they mattered. Why a fellow MGB officer, Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) was suddenly interested in Leo’s wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), and what special deal or connection he had with his commanding officer, Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel). None of this is properly explained, and unfortunately not the only example of lazy plotting and weak character development evident throughout the film.
I’m willing to bet writer Richard Price wanted to touch on everything covered in the novel. That being the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo (the Rostov Ripper), soviet-era criminality, the paranoia of the age, the education system, orphanages, homosexuality and the secret police. And by doing so, delivered an incoherent screenplay that spends very little time exploring its central murder mystery plot. Which is interesting, because a few critics of the book complained about the exact same thing.
I wanted to see the film they advertised in the trailer. That was a well produced crime thriller starring the always impressive Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman. It showed us how a Stalin-era criminal investigation would work in a society unable to acknowledge such crimes exist. A film with superior production values, a beautiful score, detailed well researched costumes and a thrilling collusion. What we ended up with though is unfocused, and simply doesn’t work.
* MGB – Ministerstvo gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti. Ministry of State Security.
This may work for people who have read the book, and are curious how it was adapted to film. The movie is rated R for violence, disturbing images and some bad language.
For the most part, this is a decently shot film and would be best be enjoyed on a theater sized screen. The action however, is really poorly shot. Filmed way too closely and edited to be incomprehensible. There was a fight on a train involving Noomi Replace, Tom Hardy and two goons – and I couldn’t tell who was who!
Worst Moment: << spoiler >>
It’s a pet peeve of mine to see big name stars showing up in tiny roles in movies, and towards the end of Child 44, Charles Dance shows up as Leo’s commanding officer, Major Grachev. It’s not quite a cameo, not that a movie like this needs a ‘fun’ cameo at all, and it wasn’t a big enough contribution to warrant his appearance – so just ends up being a silly distraction. That, and his Russian accent was terrible!