Review: Child 44
PLOT: A loyal member of the military police, under Stalin’s rule, finds himself at odds with his own beliefs after a cover-up of a child’s brutal slaying. Soon, he and his wife are desperate to solve the killing, even at the risk of their very own survival.
REVIEW: There is a great film somewhere in the new thriller CHILD 44. In fact, there are a number of possible great films that are jumbled together into what is unfortunately one mess of a movie. Based on the novel by Tom Rob Smith, this is an intriguing collection of stories revolving around a pro-Stalin officer who begins to investigate a series of child murders in a country where “murder” does not occur - an already fascinating story. While this may not necessarily be considered a collection of stories as it is one narrative piece, this tale of intrigue, murder and crime is a puzzle with too many pieces. It is a tedious experience to sit through, as well as being a bit morbid and depressing.
Taking place in Stalin ruled Soviet Union, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is an officer who will do exactly what is required to keep the country in order. Yet when the brutal death of his friend’s child is given a questionable assessment, he begins to distrust those in command. Since the act of murder is not something that happens in the USSR at that time in history, the death is wrongly called an accident. With Demidov showing signs of betrayal to Stalin because of his concern for the truth, he is assigned to investigate a traitor in his midst - his own wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace). When he risks it all to save her, his is reassigned (demoted) and placed under the order of General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman). Still, Leo finds even more reason to believe that there is a child murderer loose when more killings occur in similar fashion.
CHILD 44 is a complex and horrifyingly fascinating tale. Yet with a script by Richard Price, there is little focus on the main story of a child killer and a man desperate to find the truth. It is an ambitious tale that attempts to take as many avenues to create this brutal world. However, this balancing act is faltered as it dabbles in each aspect of this examination without fully committing to any of the ideas presented. At one point near the end of the film, director Daniel Espinosa attempts to create suspense with a couple of action set pieces that seem out of place with the rest of the world he has created. Watching the mostly meek Raisa headbutt a villain would have been hysterical had the movie itself not been so grim.
As the morally challenged hero, Tom Hardy gives a very layered performance. The actor shares wonderful moments with Rapace and Oldman, as well as Joel Kinnaman and Vincent Cassel. There is so much going on here that it would be easy to mistake this for a really well done collection of examples of Hardy’s talent. As well, the rest of the actors involved give solid performances, and it was impressive to see so many greats in one film. Even Jason Clarke shows up for a brief moment, and once again, he has a terrific scene with Hardy.
This is an oddly structured feature. Having not read the original novel myself, I have to question what kind of changes were made in this adaptation. It is possibly they tried too hard to remain faithful to the source material. Based on the true life tale of Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, the same subject has been adapted in the far more effective CITIZEN X - a made for cable film from 1995. Placing CHILD 44 during Joseph Stalin’s rule had promise from a historical standpoint, but again, the novel may have been better suited to explore this very complex time. Or if this had been made into a series or mini-series, there would have been more room to explore the many themes brought up.
As good as Tom Hardy is in the leading role, CHILD 44 is a messy and dismal examination of a horrific crime, in a time and place where a crime like this supposedly cannot exist. If you are a fan of the cast, you can find a few moments that are intensely potent. Ambitious to a fault, this is a slightly serviceable story of murder that features strong performances, but little more than that. If you’d like to see a far more interesting take on this true life crime, I highly recommend CITIZEN X.
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