Cinematic Releases: Child 44

We review this week's other release, Child 44 starring Mad Max. 

tom hardy gary oldman
"Shhhhh. I'm planning our escape from
this dire movie!"
British actor Tom Hardy is one of the great actors of our modern times, best known as Britain’s most dangerous prisoner in Bronson and Bruce Wayne’s arch nemesis in The Dark Knight Rises.  Hardy got great accolades for the minimalist drama Locke and is set towards superstardom in the forthcoming big budget reboot of Mad Max. 

Unfortunately in this week’s newly released historically dramatic action thriller Child 44, his efforts get lost in the shuffle of this $44 million Scott Free produced dud.  Based on a critically and commercially successful novel of the same name about a disgraced Russian MGB agent who is assigned to investigate a series of child murders, what could have been an engaging period thriller set during the height of Stalinism is instead a dour and tedious bore that meanders and fails to engage.  Where the novel gave room to excoriate hypocrisies within the Soviet state, largely with turning a blind eye to crimes to uphold the notion of communism as blissful ignorance, the Ridley Scott produced film doesn’t do a whole lot with that beyond brutalizing the viewer with oppressive violence.  With few surprises outside of the obligatory fist fights Hardy is tasked with, Child 44 mostly wallows in unpleasantness and lacks focus, never really sure which plot thread is more pressing than the other.

It’s a shame because Tom Hardy is actually quite good as Leo Demidov, the former pawn of fascism who gradually develops a guilt complex over his position of power and the abuses committed by his comrades.  That’s not to say he’s altogether a convincing Russian alongside the equally distracting casting of Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman as fellow Russians, but he sells the part well enough.  Most of the film is lensed in that desaturated grayscale seen in the likes of Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes, where everything looks pretty miserable.  

tom hardy noomi rapace
"Weren't we just in that other stinker,
The Drop together? Nevermind.
Shut up and kiss me!"
In terms of filmmaking, there’s not a whole lot although a shot of a Russian factory recalls Mordor from The Lord of the Rings, a moment of unintentional hilarity for those who are really paying attention.  When the film isn’t punishing hardened characters with stock villains and melodramatic archetypes who seem to have wandered off the set of Gymkata, it drags its feet before getting to any real point with many elongated monologues and moments for Hardy to show off his acting chops by crying on camera. 

Neither an outright bad movie nor a particularly good one, Child 44 is an average and forgettable effort which wastes the actors, a true story that’s otherwise worth telling and a lot of dollars which could have been better spent elsewhere.  Word has it the film was recently banned in Russia prior to theatrical release due to how it transforms the country into a Peter Jackson fantasyland.  While the right to creative expression should absolutely be upheld in every nation, Russian viewers shouldn’t feel too bad about having Child 44 withheld from their eyesight.  Sluggish and misguided with too many threads that don’t add up, my friendly suggestion will be to let this one go quietly into the night.  If nothing else, Child 44 piqued my interest in the source material upon which the film was based, if only to recognize how a powerful history lesson resulted in a cinematic mediocrity that should have hit the dumping ground season sooner than later.

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-Andrew Kotwicki