Chameleon actor Tom Hardy (Batman, Legend) turns in a Brando-like performance as Russian war hero turned investigator Leo Demidov on the trail of a serial killer. In a paranoid Soviet state of suspicion and fear, executing its citizens at will, even his schoolteacher wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace – Prometheus, Dragon Tatoo trilogy) is afraid of him.
It’s not easy when ‘there can be no murder in paradise’; even when the latest murdered child – 44th – is the son of his army comrade; the totalitarian state is in denial of murder, even as it executes its citizens daily. This is Soviet Russia at the height of Stalin’s reign of terror, and even a war hero like Leo can be denounced and exiled to a remote factory town after failing to denounce his own wife, a suspected dissident.
Leo’s new boss General Nesomorov (Gary Oldman – Tinker, Tailor’) is finally convinced of a serial killer using the railway through his patch with the murder of another child, but mounting a proper investigation of a serial killer itself is contrary to the Party line.
Leo and Raisa attempt to find the killer themselves, with Leo’s former protege Vasily (Joel Kinnaman – Robocop, Run All Night) a jealous and twisted state-sanctioned psychopath in uniform on their trail.
Director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) recreates a grey, decomposing 1950’s Russia which is oppressive and relentlessly bleak.
Child 44’s supporting cast includes Jared Harris (Game of Shadows), Vincent Kassel and Paddy Considine (World’s End). Considine has the thankless task of fleshing out an underwritten serial killer who is tracked down rather too easily in the compression of a large novel to a two hour movie.
Adapted from Tom Rob Smith’s best seller, Child 44’s unusual setting of Soviet Russia has shades of 80’s classic thriller Gorky Park, with added fear, suspicion and misery.
The elephant in the room is the not only bizarre choice of cod Russian accents for the entire cast, suggesting we the audience need a full-time reminder that we’re in Russia; Hardy chooses to pitch Leo’s accent so thick it makes him near-unintelligible on a par with Brando’s Godfather. While it perfectly suits Hardy’s bull-necked bruiser from a Ukranian orphanage, the pantomime accent not only marks him as the outsider but puts him in a different movie altogether.
Star of the show is, of course, Noomi Rapace, downtrodden, terrified and still a defiant battler to the last; a Julia to Leo’s Winston Smith.
With graphic violence, some disturbing images, language and a bit of non-erotic sex, this is a seriously bleak, grown-up thriller, highly evocative of its’ Soviet setting. And yet the plotting and execution is somehow less than the sum of it’s parts
Child 44 (2015)
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Tom Rob Smith, Richard Price
Runtime: 2 hr. 17 min.
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Odlman, Joel Kinneman, Vincent Kassel, Jared Harris, Tata Fitzgerald, Paddy Considine, Fares Fares