Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace
During Stalin’s rule of the Soviet Union, after being sent to a desolate outpost, Leo Dimidov (Hardy), a disgraced former soviet military police officer embarks on a personal mission to investigate a series of child murders, despite increasing opposition from the authorities that puts the life of him and his wife (Rapace) in increasing danger, especially as under Stalinist Russia ‘there is no murder in paradise’, let alone a serial killer.
As much as I think I can confidently say that we all love a good old fashioned spy thriller, it helps if that said spy thriller is a yarn told well. Well, though Tom Rob Smith’s novel is an apparent page turner, Daniel Espinosa’s film adaptation often struggles to translate that into a compelling thriller as Richard Price’s screenplay often spectacularly collapses under the weight of the amount of subplots, character and themes it has within it.
In a story with so many characters and subplots, creative and almost executive decisions have to be made as to what to focus on and ultimately leave out. Unfortunately it does very much feel the case that Price struggled with this and the narrative of Child 44 frequently switches focus between subplots and most certainly makes them all slightly underwhelming. This is a particularly a shame and waste of potential as the time in history of its setting is certainly a very intriguing one. Child 44 is at times a murder mystery, a political thriller and a love story, but often unsuccessfully merges the three of them.
This is a shame as aesthetically Child 44 is a very competently (if perhaps in a slightly predictable and textbook way) made thriller. There is certainly an air of laziness involved as it seems that the makers think assembling a cast of talented big names can bring about enough subconscious engagement with the characters from the viewer without having to worry too much about competent storytelling.
Whereas the novel may well have had the time to develop its plethora of characters and subplots, despite being a quite exhausting 137 minutes long, the film simply does not and perhaps suggests in hindsight Child 44 would have been far better as a TV miniseries.
Though the Russian accents vary in quality between actors, due to the combination of nationalities it does make sense to give all characters a middle ground. They could have forced non English actors to try to do the whole English ‘non-regional’ accent (i.e. an English accent) but that could have made things even worse. Thankfully the accents are not too off putting or distracting, and the performances are otherwise excellent. Tom Hardy gives the film’s protagonist the necessary combination of masculine presence, integrity and vulnerability. Likewise Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman are excellent in their roles. Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine and Charles Dance provide their usual screen presence to their characters even though they do have sadly limited screen time.
Despite the great performances it does ultimately feel that some of the characters are very much at the mercy of the poorly constructed narrative; though some of these characters are crucial to narrative developments, these actions that have such dramatic consequences for the narrative are often lacking in justification due to the script’s inability to prioritise. There are most definitely some powerful themes at the heart of Child 44 that are both macro and micro, but the film just very rarely gets as close to them as it really should.
There are without doubt some superb individual moments of true tension and drama, this drama often being elevated by the great performances, and the competent aesthetics certainly make Child 44 never anything less than watchable, but there is no getting away from the fact that it is incompetent storytelling and ultimately rather underwhelming.
Child 44 may be classed in the genre of thriller, but due to incompetent storytelling that fails to successfully manage its abundance of subplots and characters, and despite some solid performances it is predominantly less than thrilling, but just bloated, overlong and unsatisfying nonsense.