Film Review: Child 44

Written By Aaron Sarnecky

Child 44 Poster

Child 44 Plot Summary:

Former Ministry of State Security Agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) and his superior, General Nesterov (Gary Oldman), investigate the killings of dozens of boys across the Soviet Union. While evidence points to the existence of a serial killer, state doctrine under Stalin asserts “there is no murder in paradise.”  At the risk of treason, Demidov must fight the system if he is to stop the killing spree.

I was generally excited to see this movie when I went to the theater the other day. First off, the premise sounded different. Detective movies and serial killers are nothing new. But a movie like this set in the Stalin-era USSR came off as pretty original. According to the movie, Stalin’s government did not acknowledge any murders, pinning homicide as a capitalist disease. I’m not sure if this was really the case, but it certainly sets up for a good flick. The fact that the movie reunited Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, who have been in a handful of movies together, was a plus as well.

Child 44 Pic 1

And Tom Hardy certainly gives it his all throughout the entire movie, playing the role as close to perfect as possible. He’s fully invested in every scene. I also have to give him props for rocking the best Russian accent I’ve heard from a non-Russian actor (he’s British, for the record). But, unfortunately, I can’t heap the same praise onto Gary Oldman. People familiar with Oldman’s work know him as a virtual chameleon. Hardy himself has even called Oldman his personal hero and the greatest actor who ever lived. Despite all that, Oldman is a non-presence in Child 44. He’s not in the movie that much, honestly, maybe 15 minutes at the most. And when he is in it, his accent is surprisingly weak and slightly inconsistent. It’s just not up to par to his Russian accent in Air Force One.

I wish I could say the lack of Oldman is the biggest of this movie’s problems, but it sadly is not. The largest issue with the film is its lack of focus on what should be the central plot. The movie seems more interested in whether or not Demidov’s wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), is a spy for the West. I wouldn’t usually put this kind of spoiler in my review, but it’s inconsequential. I watched the movie, and I’m still not 100 percent sure if she is a spy or not. To the movie’s credit, it starts out an interesting plot thread, but it doesn’t belong in this movie. If anything, it should have been the premise for an entirely different film. It takes up at least an hour of the movie’s two hours and seventeen minutes.

The actual premise of the movie was not really that engaging, believe it or not. The killer’s modus operandi doesn’t really stand out all that much, and by the end I was still confused on why he murders boys in the first place. The murderer didn’t have the best life before the events of the film, but that still doesn’t explain it enough. I don’t need a whole psychoanalysis of the killer. I just want a plausible motive.

Child 44 pic 2

I could have excused the lack of motive if the internal squabbles between Demidov and the regime made up more of the meat of the movie. There are a few instances, and they work pretty well from an emotional standpoint. There’s a scene in which Demidov reads the official autopsy to his friend and his family. Even though they protest the document as a lie, he continues with little hesitation. It’s one of the more powerful scenes in the film. It does make me wonder though, if murder is not recognized by the state, why would his friend even suggest that his son was murdered? Do only party members know about the regime’s stance? Regardless, this situation is unfortunately one of the only instances that the movie focuses on the state policy regarding murder. It’s pretty much dropped until the end of the movie. It’s a welcome return, and it’s great to see how the party rationalizes the killings. Which makes it all the more frustrating when it’s dropped again, only minutes later, in favor of a less inspired ending that sets up a sequel that I doubt will ever happen.

Frustrating is a good word to describe the entire movie, because it has a good premise that’s poorly executed. Tom Hardy, as excellent as he is, can’t save this unfocused movie. This movie has been banned in Russia, by the way, for supposedly distorting how Soviet life was before, during, and after World War II. That’s unacceptable, of course, and I guess I should protest it more, with freedom of speech being squashed and all. But I just don’t think the Russian people are missing out on much.

Rating: 4.5 Out of 10 (Poor)


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