Child 44 is buried underneath the weight of its epic ambitions, resulting into a scattershot script that wastes a compelling story and high production value.
A politically-charged serial killer thriller set in 1953 Soviet Russia, CHILD 44 chronicles the crisis of conscience for secret police agent Leo Demidov [Tom Hardy], who loses status, power and home when he refuses to denounce his own wife, Raisa [Noomi Rapace], as a traitor. Exiled from Moscow to a grim provincial outpost, Leo and Raisa join forces with General Mikhail Nesterov [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 [Joel Kinnaman], who insists “There is no crime in Paradise.” (C) Lionsgate
As expected from a well-funded period epic, Child 44 has an ensemble cast, detailed period costumes, expertly picked locations, and deft cinematography. It’s a believable world of tension and control during post-war industrial Soviet Union filled with characters oppressed by government mandated conformity.
Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace – as well as the rest cast – do their best to make things work. Unfortunately the movie’s failed attempt to become a period epic results into a convoluted and badly executed plot.
Child 44 is really about child murders (hence the title) but its crowded by subplots – a character story, domestic woes and totalitarian tropes. The movie doesn’t have time to develop any of them so it relies on exposition heavy dialogue and contrivances to compress its multiple narrative strands.
Leo falls from grace after he fails to denounce his wife. After getting ditched to the asshole of Stalinist Russia the couple now feels the brunt of oppression with the loss of their limited privilege. Caricature villains come out of the woodwork, marriage troubles continue and systematic oppression ruins everyone’s life. Meanwhile in the background, kids keep getting murdered. As Leo resolves to finally finish the investigation, we discover that his new outpost is holding piles of evidence. The climax is an anticlimactic reveal coupled with an equally anticlimactic brawl.
The movie ends with a neatly wrapped up redemption of our hero. Charles Dance, who’s now the designated character of authority (see: The Imitation Game among many others) just like Morgan Freeman is the designated narrator of everything, makes an appearance. While it’s a welcoming reprieve given the gloom and doom of what happened before it’s hard to get invested. It’s confusing on what this movie is really about in the first place.
Book adaptations are never easy to pull off. The movie could end up diluting the potency of the source material or compressing its notable elements with mixed results. Child 44 suffers from the latter.
Would a more focused story about child 44 be less epic than the source material intended? perhaps. Would it provide an opportunity to craft a compelling story with relatable characters? More likely. Sadly, Child 44 trades this opportunity for misguided ambitions.
My Rating: 4/10