Child 44 Review
FROM RUSSIA WITH NO LOVE
British writer Tom Rob Smith book titled Child 44 has become an international bestseller. First published back in 2008, this first novel of a trilogy (featuring the character of Leo Demidov), has sold millions of copies worldwide and has been translated into thirty six different languages. Smith’s book went on to receive nominations in the literary world and won several distinguish awards from the Crime Writers Association, the Desmond Elliot Prize, and the Galaxy Book Award. Now, Summit Entertainment and director Riddley Scott (acting as producer), present a cinematic adaption of Smith’s first in the film Child 44. Does this film translate well from book to screen or does it get lost in translation?
Raised as an orphan after the Ukrainian Holodomor of the 1930s and growing to war hero in World War II, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is highly decorated official in the Russia’s Ministry of State Security and lives comfortable life in Moscow with his wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace). After the recent capture of a prisoner named Anatoly (Jason Clarke), attempting to extract names of Russian traitors from the criminal, Leo receives news that Raisa is part of Anatoly confession of traitors, triggering a thorough investigation that offers Leo’s subordinate Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) an opportunity to take Leo’s lofty position in the MGB. Believing his wife is innocent in this accusation, Leo, now disgraced and demoted, and Raisa are sent to live in the industrial town of Volsk, making the best of their situation with Leo reporting to General Timir (Gary Oldman) as his superior. However, a mysterious case of child murders that was dismissed by the government has resurfaced. With a serial killer on the loose, taking the lives of 44 children in the countryside, Leo secretly goes into action in an attempt to unmask the murder before another child’s life is taken.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like what said in my review for David Fincher’s Gone Girl, I personally did not get the chance to read Rob Smith’s book Child 44. I got sidetrack with reading other books that I forgot to pick up a copy and read it before the movie came out. Thus, I can’t speak on the subject matter of what was lost and gain from the book to the film adaptation. And so, moving forward with this review, Child 44 has an intriguing concept (albeit a murderous and disturbing one) that’s seems to be in-tuned with similar serial killer thriller flicks like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (both versions). Truthfully, I was slightly interested in the movie because of that, but more importantly because of its cast (Hardy, Oldman, Rapace, etc). After viewing Child 44, I felt it, while the premise is interesting and the acting is generally solid, the overall film was just a passable thriller.
Daniel Espinosa, director of such films as Easy Money and Safe House, seems to stand on shaky ground when directing Child 44. His film vision of what Tom Rob Smith’s book is somewhat a cacophony of cobbled up genres of other movies. A little bit of war drama, spy espionage, thriller, action, and drama are blended together with dutiful purpose, but its consistency is not solid enough, ending in a result of a film that has case of mistaken identity. With its many subplots and different avenues the movie wants to go, Child 44 ultimately falls prey to being sluggish, trudging through the minutes ever so slowly with a bloated runtime of being fifteen minutes shy of a two and half hour endeavor. The film also has a hard time connecting the story’s narrative dots cohesively. I felt like I was watching two movies in one with Leo dealing with accusation Raisa being a traitor as one and the serial killer of the 44 children as another. It just doesn’t mesh completely well.
Again, Child 44 has an interesting narrative, but the actually examination and disclosure of the murdered 44 children doesn’t come until almost fifty minutes into the movie. One would think that the movie would have a lot of suspense (being a serial killer / thriller movie), but Child 44 lacks proper suspense for this genre with events unfold slowly and the film’ tension is mild at best. Furthermore, the identity of the serial killer is awkwardly introduced halfway through the film (to the viewers) and sort of undermines (and deflates) the supposedly heightened tension towards the film’s third act. In the end, Child 44 wants to be many things, but being suspenseful is not one of them.
On the positive side, the production design for the film is commendable, capturing the dreary and grim atmosphere of Joseph Stalin-era Russia. Sets and costume design look great and authentic for this fix point in time, feeling both grimy and gritty with a sense of dinginess. The movie is also mostly humorless, which in this case is a sort of good thing, keeping up the seriousness motif and constant overall backdrop setting of the destitute life in 1953s Russia.
As I stated, the acting in Child 44 is the silver lining for the feature as Espinosa has enlisted a strong cast of actors. Tom Hardy’s Leo is the central role in the movie and fits him perfectly. He’s seems to have mastered the silent brutish ruffian persona he has grown accustomed to his recurring roles and plays Leo to that degree with subtle imitation. Rapace does a good job as Raisa, Leo’s wife, and gets a moment to shine here and there, especially when she shares screen time with Hardy. Joel Kinnaman also plays a good job as Volsk, but his character is written haphazardly poor, making the character (not the actor) a flat comrade / villain. Seasoned actor Gary Oldman masterfully carries his theatrical weight with ease in playing the character of General Timir, but his presence in the film is small. Rounding out the class is Jason Clarke as the prisoner Anatoly, who has a small supporting role in Child 44 (but it’s a central role to the story) and even Game of Thrones alum Charles Dance graces the screen for small appearance.
Political? Thriller? Drama? Action? War film? In the end, Child 44 seems confused on what it wants to be. Despite having a strong cast of actors to play its participating characters and an intriguing and complex backdrop setting of political Russia in 1953s, Daniel Espinosa’s film sluggishly falters as it meanders through several minor subplots too much, bogging the feature down with tedious dramatics that should’ve left on the cutting room floor. To me, it was just okay. Could it been better and more engaging? Of course and I wished it was. While the story’s narrative delves into the mystery behind the killings of 44 children, the mystery of the film’s “identity crisis” remains elusive.