FILM REVIEW: Child 44


Genre: Thriller

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Vincent Cassel

Distributor: Entertainment One

Certification: 16

Release date: 17th April 2015

Duration: 136 minutes

The novel: Published in 2008, Tom Rob Smith’s thriller novel, Child 44, met with critical acclaim. Highlighting the issue of Soviet-era criminality in a state where “there is no crime”, this novel marked the first in a trilogy – based on the real-life crimes of notorious serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo (aka the Rostov Ripper) – about a disgraced MGB agent who investigates a series of gruesome child murders under the framework of the USSR.

Nine years later, Scott finds himself sat next to a Gladiator sword and Alien prop across from notable Child 44 buff, Ridley Scott (Blade Runner; Thelma & Louise; Black Hawk Down; American Gangster) in the Oscar-winning director’s London HQ. And the rest – as they say – is history.

The film: A politically-charged crime thriller set in 1953 Soviet Russia, Child 44 chronicles the crisis of conscience for secret police agent, Leo Demidov (played by Tom Hardy), who loses his status, power and home when he refuses to denounce his own wife, Raisa (played by Noomi Rapace), as a traitor. Exiled from Moscow to a grim rural base, Leo and Raisa join forces with General Mikhail Nesterov (played by Gary Oldman) to track down a serial killer who preys on young boys. Their quest for justice threatens a system-wide cover-up enforced by Leo’s psychopathic rival Vasili (played by Joel Kinnaman), who claims, “There is no crime in Paradise.”

Initially wanting to direct Child 44 himself, Scott happily handed over the reins to Daniel Espinosa’s after seeing his 2010 crime thriller, Snabba Cash (aka Easy Money). The highest-grossing movie in Swedish history, Snabba Cash showcased Espinosa’s inventively theatrical action sequences and stylish editing.

The reaction: At this time when they are preparing to commemorate next month the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian authorities aren’t best pleased about Child 44 – believing it to contain distortions of history. So in true Barbra Streisand fashion, they’ve banned it. As The Guardian columnist, Mary Dejevsky effectively points out: “Many Russians insist that Stalin was ignorant to what was being done on his behalf. It may take another generation for that to change.” This ban will most likely backfire on them. Just ask Sony.

With themes concerning Soviet censorship, questionable practices of law enforcement as well as homosexuality in the USSR (to name a few), is it any wonder why Child 44 has wound up the Russian people.

The review: Although speaking English, the cast don their best Russian accents. OK, so they want to easily market it across the world. Fine with me. I’m not a big fan of subtitles anyway. It’s a fair enough compromise when you think of the likes of Les Misérable where the French characters sound like castoffs from Oliver Twist.

Although watchable, Child 44 misses out on a great opportunity to compelling viewing. Screenwriter, Richard Price (The Wire), could have been made the film far more thrilling if he dug deeper into the novel’s interesting socio-political seams rather than getting lost with its serial killer pursuit. No doubt, the adapted screenplay is smart and stark, but simply not that shrewd.

The acting, however, is stand-out. And how could it not with Hollywood hotshots, Hardy, Rapace and Oldman, leading the way? Hardy and Rapace particularly work very well together – having previously starred side-by-side last year in crime drama, The Drop. Unfortunately, the script keeps you waiting for certain faces. For example, it takes far too long until Oldman appears on-screen for the first time. Halfway through a 136-minute film! At one point (still waiting for General Nesterov first scene), I thought Oldman was given a minor role and they put his name on the billing just to boost the marketing.

I can’t say that I was wowed by Child 44, but it’s worth a watch. My verdict…

6/10

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