“There are no murders in Paradise”. This is a phrase repeated several times in the period thriller “Child 44”. The line is a reference to the former Soviet practice of denying the existence of murders and serial killings within their Communist model. In the film we see the propaganda machine clash with a series of brutal child murders in Moscow and surrounding areas. The film is produced by Ridley Scott who was originally in line to direct. Instead the directing duties were handed to Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa.
“Child 44” is adapted from British writer Tom Rob Smith’s 2008 novel which was based on the serial killings of Andrei Chikatilo. The film begins by establishing the system and bureaucracy of the Stalinist Soviet Union in the early 1950s. Tom Hardy plays Leo Demidov, a decorated agent from the Ministry of State Security. His main job is enforcing the rigid laws and capturing anyone the government deems to be traitors. And we see their methods of law enforcement as manipulative, suppressive, and sometimes violent.
Then there is Leo’s relationship with his disillusioned wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace). When out with friends they look like the perfect couple, but she clearly shows a disconnect at home stirring up a number of suspicions within Leo. But in the background of the political and personal storylines, a growing number of murdered young boys’ bodies are turning up. The government wants to cover it up. Families are suffering. And eventually Leo finds himself caught in the middle.
I went into “Child 44” expected a murder mystery thriller. It is definitely that, but Richard Price’s screenplay ventures off into a number of different directions. The marital tensions between Leo and Raisa evolves into a deeper sidestory. A layered political drama builds throughout the film. Then there is the hunt for the serial killer. These and a few smaller subplots are interwoven within the fabric of the film resulting in the vision sometimes feeling clouded.
But the film leads us through this haze and unfolds each story angle, bringing them together in a deliberate, slow-burning method that clearly didn’t work for many. I love the tense political drama and its ominous, ever-present threat which bleeds into ever other facet of the film. There is a tension boiling behind every conversation large or small. There is a proactive paranoia within the bureaucracy which leads to some of the film’s more disturbing moments. And the oppressive nature of the politics hangs over the people like a shroud. It is very well done.
The same could be said of the strained and uncomfortable marriage between Leo and Raisa. The edge to their story angle gets sharper as the movie progresses and the film does a fine job of giving them moments to flesh out their relationship. A number of outliers and influences play into their angle taking it into some very interesting directions.
That leads to the central storyline – the murder mystery and the hunt for a savage serial killer. At least it appeared to be the central storyline based on the film’s promotion. Actually this story angle gets less screen time than the others which was disappointing. The urgency grows with each grim and unnerving discovery yet it languishes in the shadow of the other stories. It is intensely intriguing yet strangely handled. I mean even with a running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, it doesn’t feel like the film gives the murder mystery enough time or attention.
Plenty of criticisms were hurled towards some of the performances and particular casting choices. Gripes about the heavy accents and the decision to use predominately non-Russian actors. Honestly I think the film pulls it off nicely. A strong supporting cast features Rapace, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Joel Kinnaman, and a host of others.
But it is Tom Hardy’s fiercely committed performance that carries the picture. His blanched complexion and weary eyes gel well with his consistently serious and solemn demeanor. In fact I think he may smile once in the entire film and even then the sincerity is in question. Hardy harnesses all of his character’s inner conflicts and various states of mind and presents them all with a robust confidence. Its a great performance.
“Child 44” is considered a bomb. It bombed with critics. It bombed at the box office. But I just can’t go along with the majority of criticisms. Yes, the film is a slow-moving experience. Yes, the film often lacks a clear and specific focus. But never once was I bored by the pacing or lost due to its narrative structure. Clearly the screenplay and direction could have tightened things up a bit, but there is still so much the movie does right. It ends up being a unique and compelling procedural that I found satisfying even in its messiness. I’m happy to go against the grain with this one.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
It must of bombed at the box office cause I didn’t see a release or fanfare concerning it. It’s a well-known novel among crime/mystery readers, too. With a cast like this, I’d have expected more press, or at least discussion of it. ‘Child 44’ just flew into oblivion seemingly. I will catch up to it, though. Mainly for your review, Keith. Thanks.
I was really excited when it came out but it was crushed by critics. Its theater run in this area was extremely short – so short that I missed it. But I wasn’t too concerned considering the response.
Now I’ve caught up with it and I’m glad I did. Not perfect but I liked it a heck of a lot more than many.
Glad you liked it but I just couldn’t get past the sluggish pace of this movie and the screenplay really didn’t do anything to keep me interested either.
That seems to be the general feelings about it. I didn’t mind the pacing mainly because I felt it had enough tension brewing from a variety of sources. The screenplay is a bit sporadic and it is really hard to get a fix on its main focus. But in the end I really went for it – me and practically no one else! 😉
Cool, I’ll have to end up giving it my attention. It popped in and out of local theaters but I was put off by the numbers. Which often is usually a good indicator (it’s why I will NOT be seeing the new Fantastic Four 😉 ), but sometimes one thinks that just a film is made differently than as advertised that means it’s a failure. Sometimes that’s true, but with a cast this good, I can’t believe Child 44 is deserving of so much criticism. Thank you for a positive review
Appreciate it Tom. The narrative structure is a bit messy and it definitely moves at a very slow pace (which many critics struggled with). But for me the messiness is tolerable and I happen to think the slow pace works very well. I’ll be anxious to hear what you think. The film doesn’t have many fans but I think its much better that the Rotten Tomatoes score.
I like the three actors but for some reason I haven’t been clamoring to see this. Glad to hear it’s worth seeing Keith, I’ll be up for renting this once it’s on iTunes. I don’t always agree w/ critics so I’ll go into it w/ an open mind.
Awesome Ruth. I’m not with all of the criticism it has received. It is slow paced. It is dark and gloomy. It’s narrative is splintered in several different directions. But it did work for me in the end and I too like these actors so it was fun to see them at work.
Did this one stay in theaters very long up there? Here it was gone after two weekends (if my memory serves me right). Quite the box office bomb.
Can’t remember if it played in a theater near me, there was a screening a while back so maybe for a few weeks. Yeah, it seems too somber to be a hit. I usually see films like this at home anyway, nice to see Hardy & Oldman on screen again after ‘Tinker Tailor’ which was another s-l-o-w film.
Good comparison in terms of pacing although I do feel this one keeps the tension ramped up a bit more.
Btw, speaking of slow(er) films, the film I just reviewed fits that category too. I don’t mind it if somehow the conversation keeps my interest, so I guess a film that doesn’t have much action going on can still be very watchable.
Absolutely. I’ll be heading over there and making my rounds in a few minutes. You have my curiosity going. I stopped by earlier and then immediately got a call.
Sounds like you had a similar reaction to me. I didn’t love this film but I think all the negative reviews were unfiar. And Hardy does one hell of a Russian accent!!
I liked it quite a bit while recognizing its flaws. I think it is far better than the hammering it has taken from critics. Hardy? He was strong wasn’t he?
hardy was intense! And his accent didn’t fail once, not that I noticed. Pity the film got such bad press, I don’t think its horrible at all. Like you said, I liked it a lot while seeing where it was flawed
A bit more about the accent, I think you’re right. I don’t remember it failing at all. He nailed it and sustained it.
I’m glad that you enjoyed this. I didn’t think it was terrible but I felt like in a novel both of the story lines would have had room to breathe but even with a 137 minute running time everything feels a bit rushed and sudden and there is not enough care put into exploring the killer or his motivations.
That is the one story angle that felt backburnered. The killer, his motives, and even the hunt for him needed a bit more attention. I just really liked everything else it was doing. I was pretty enthralled and Hardy’s performance was strong.
I read the book many years ago upon its release, have been hearing ever since this was going to be made into a film. Reading your review makes me want to watch it now
I enjoyed the film. It’s dark and the subject matter is unpleasant but I felt it handled it well. But I’m one of the few that seems to be positive. It was hammered pretty hard by critics, and a bit unfairly IMO.
Oh wow, this is a really positive review! I have been meaning to check it out, no matter what the consensus on it has been. Excellent review!
Thanks Zoe! It got universally panned but I don’t think it is nearly as bad as many think. Definitely check it out to make sure I’m not crazy! 😉
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