Child 44, 2015.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa.
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke, Paddy Considine and Vincent Cassel.
A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.
Based on Tom Rob Smith’s 2008 novel; Child 44 proves how difficult it can be to effectively adapt such meaty material. Charting the life of Ukranian orphan Leo (Hardy) as he climbs the ranks within Soviet Russia, the story then briskly moves to him investigating a series of child murders. The film’s main idea that “there is no murder in paradise” is a compelling one and sets up the twists and turns of the story. However, the narrative is badly handled and the film plods along at a snail’s pace. There is some redemption in its final act but not enough to make up for the convoluted story that proceeds it.
Whilst Child 44’s trailers have billed it as a hunt for a serial killer it is much more than that – and in a way that is to the detriment of the film. In 137 minutes, we’re given a wealth of story line and ideas but none feel as fully formed as they should – characters are introduced but never developed and there are plot lines thrown in that don’t amount to anything. The representation of the day to day living in Soviet Russia is compelling to watch, as is Leo’s investigation into the murders. However, the two stories continually interrupt the tension within the film; making the reveal of the killer seemingly an afterthought.
Solid performances by the cast help the film. Hardy dons a thick Russian accent to play Leo. Whilst his accent is distracting and at times laughable, his body language in certain scenes reveals more than you could imagine. After two young girls are orphaned Leo sits down and seemingly lets the emotion wash over him. It’s an effective piece of acting by Hardy and reinforces how important his physical presence can be. Noomi Rapace delivers a solid performance as Leo’s downtrodden wife, combining fear and strength in equal measures. However, her character is underwritten and her motivations continually change as the film progresses.
The stand out performance throughout the film is Joel Kinnaman’s slimy agent Vassili. Cowardly and manipulative, he steals each scene he’s in and makes what could have been a one dimensional character into someone much more intriguing and unnerving. Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassel all provide good support, but ultimately they’re considerable talents are wasted. Considine in particular is riveting to watch and I left the cinema wishing that he’d had more screen time. Gary Oldman seems to once again being doing his trick of speaking quietly and then shouting. It feels as if he’s been brought on board purely for his name as his character is hugely under developed and amounts to nothing more than a cameo.
Daniel Espinosa is growing as a director, but with Child 44 he’s fallen into the trap of trying to do too much. Storylines are introduced but not followed up and the constant shift makes it difficult to find the film even remotely tense. The recreation of Soviet Russia is handled well and visually the film delivers in each scene. Cuts between the sound of a squealing train and children’s screaming is effective. It’s just a shame that as a whole the film falls completely flat. Child 44 is a difficult novel to tackle and whilst there are elements of brilliance in Richard Price’s screenplay, the pacing is sloppy and ultimately uninteresting.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Helen Murdoch is a freelance writer – Follow me on Twitter