The prospect of a drama starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke and Noomi Rapace based on Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling novel Child 44 suggested that it would be a great film. Sadly, in the hands of Daniel Espinosa, who was responsible for the “Martin Scorsese Presents” gangster flick Easy Money, that prospect dwindles into tedium, laced with out-dated, dodgy foreign accents and sloppy narrative structure. The story opens with a quote, stating “There is no murder in paradise,” a mantra handed down by Stalin and the Kremlin insisting that they have created an idyllic state, far removed from the corruption of the capitalist West, where it’s impossible to consider the idea of murder.
It’s an enticing concept given that the premise suggests that we will be in for a whodunit. However, this is not what we get. Espinosa has clearly demonstrated ambition with Child 44, however he sets up a series of disconnected plot lines that never successfully gel, distracting the audience from the murder plot that fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion come the end of the film. We are first introduced to the film’s protagonist Leo Demidov as a young boy fleeing a bleak and brutal orphanage. It’s explained that during Holodomor, millions of children died in the Ukraine between 1932-33. We then cut to the siege of the Reichstag in 1945, where Demidov raises the Soviet flag over what is left of the building with his comrade, Alexei (Fares Fares), whilst down below is the cowardly but ambitious Vasili (Joel Kinnaman).
We’re then transported to postwar Moscow, where the conquering hero, Demidov is now part of the secret police, and married to Raisa (Rapace). Alexei’s child is murdered but given the political state of the country the child’s death is deemed an accident. Due to political wrangling Demidov is forced to leave Moscow and take a job in the militia in a northern industrial town, where he meets General Timur Nesterov (Oldman). It’s here that the discover Alexei’s child’s death was the 44th death in a series of grisly child murders. As can probably be gleaned from the films plot, the film jumps and shifts plot lines. There is great antagonism between Demidov and Vasili, which raises a subplot about political dissidents, one of whom is played by Jason Clarke. This aspect of the story seems only to serve the cosy ending of the film and proves to be a distraction from the on-going plot.
More frustrating still is the way that Child 44’s series of subplots fail to demonstrate as to why they are included. They often distract from the momentum of the murder case, which loses momentum, culminating in a befuddling conclusion that fails to pay off. This is no doubt in due to Richard Price’s adaptation of the book that fails ever to find focus. Then there are the accidents, Hardy sounds like Bane without the mask but provides the physical bulk offering up a hero with demons. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast sound like they are paying lip service to Sean Connery in 1990’s The Hunt For Red October. It’s sad to see such talent going to waste, not to mention what could have been a compelling and arresting tale, the result, however, is a flat, dreary and messy drama.
Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh