What it's about:
A politically-charged serial killer thriller set in 1953 Soviet Russia that chronicles the crisis of conscience for secret police agent Leo Demidov, who loses status, power and home when he refuses to denounce his own wife, Raisa, as a traitor. Exiled from Moscow to a grim provincial outpost, Leo and Raisa join forces with General Mikhail Nesterov to track down a serial killer who preys on young boys. Their quest for justice threatens a system-wide coverup enforced by Leo’s psychopathic rival, Vasili, who insists that “there is no crime in Paradise.”
What we thought:
Set in Soviet Russia, Child 44 was one of those movies that had you really excited after its first trailer, but fell flat in delivering what you thought you were getting. What you thought you were getting was a thrilling serial killer movie set in in a period which is normally represented in Hollywood as a spy-off between the US and the Soviets. Instead, this plot was buried underneath an MGB agent’s fall from grace, his relationship with his wife, his nemesis out to destroy him and the hypocrisy of the Soviet government.
It’s no surprise that the first cut of the film was five and a half hours long, as the film felt like an eternity. This is one of those cases where the book is probably a hundred times better.
It centres around one Soviet agent charged with finding ‘evidence’ and tracking down suspected traitors to the government. When his best friend’s son is brutally murdered, he suspects there’s a serial killer targeting children, but because ‘murder is a capitalist disease’, it keeps getting swept under the rug. A demotion sends him to a small dirty factory town, where the same murders have taken place, and so continues the hunt for truth. Whether or not the audience is satisfied with that truth, is up for debate.Despite its many flaws in plot, it would be hard to discredit the cast.
Tom Hardy as always is an acting hero, and is currently one of my favourites. His classical acting style and suave is potent on the screen, and had a just as strong leading lady in Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). They have starred together before in The Drop, where they had a completely different on-screen relationship, but retained that inexplicable chemistry in Child 44. Gary Oldman of course can hardly do wrong and Joel Kinnaman (rebooted Robocop) plays the kind of hated character that begs for a bullet to the head.
However, I don’t think these actors’ performance can be credited to director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) but rather to their own skill and experience. Espinosa clearly had a difficult script to work with and trying to tie its numerous plot points together must have been a headache. They tried to fit in too much from the book and lacked a firm hand in streamlining the story from the award-winning novel by Tom Rob Smith. Although the book itself also had as many plot points, which works for a book but falls flat when trying to do the same for a film.
Interestingly, despite the hero being a Russian with high moral value, the film was allegedly blocked for a cinematic release in Russia because of ‘historical inaccuracies’ and depicting the Russians as cruel people.
Seeing as it depicts a time where propaganda and oppression determined what was ‘history’, this film’s depictions wasn’t too negative about the Russians.
Child 44 could have been one of those underrated jewels on the circuit, but a lack of foresight and proper guidance resulted in a disappointing plot jumble of a film that lost its edge in postproduction.
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