"There is no murder in paradise.”
Another of my most anticipated films of the year that failed to live up to my expectations. I usually tend to look forward to films based solely on the director, but this time I was excited about the cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Noomi Rapace. Child 44 is an adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s best selling novel directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) set in Stalin-era Soviet Union. Of course it is easily going to be labelled as anti-Soviet propaganda considering it is based on a novel written by a British author and directed by a Swedish director. The screenwriter, Richard Price (The Color of Money), is American and despite being set in Russia no one in the cast is Russian. Child 44 feels like one of those movies that came out during the Cold War trying to prove to the Western world how awful the Soviet communist regime was. You have British and Swedish actors playing Russian characters, but speaking in English with Russian accents because it wouldn’t be as accessible to us if they had them speaking Russian. I’m not a fan of this style of film making and would much rather them stick with the original language, but we probably would miss out on seeing such a talented cast like this if that were so. The accent issue isn’t the greatest problem with this film however, the tone of the movie is inconsistent and there are several tonal shifts that simply make the story drag at times. Child 44 is 135 minutes long and you feel every minute of it.
Tom Hardy is Leo Demidov, a Soviet military police officer who was adopted at an early age after the death of his parents. By chance he became a war hero thanks to a picture taken of him waving the Soviet flag over Berlin after their victory. Now in the early 50’s he has an important rank working in Moscow as a military officer married to Raisa (Noomi Rapace) and he enjoys sharing the story of how they met with his fellow officers. He’s idealistic and pursues anyone who is against the Stalin regime labelled as traitors. When a young boy is found dead near a train station the officials dismiss the cause of death as simply an accident, but it is evident that the kid was brutally murdered. But of course under the Soviet regime there can’t be any murders because they’re supposedly living in a perfect society. The kid happened to be the son of one of Leo’s friends, Alexei (Fares Fares), and so he begins having his doubts about the cause of death. However that doesn’t go well with Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel) who warns him to leave it at that. After successfully capturing a traitor named Anatoly (Jason Clarke), the officers get a list of names of other suspects from him. Raisa happens to be on that list and Leo is asked to testify against his wife and bring her in, which seemed to be a way of testing his commitment to the regime. He refuses to turn her in and is disgraced, demoted, and exiled to a small town near Moscow to serve under General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman). When another child victim is found there in similar conditions, Leo convinces Mikhail to look into it and they secretly begin investigating the case.
The premise of the story is very interesting, but unfortunately this period piece takes its time to introduce each character. I’ve read that the first cut of the film was over 5 hours long and you can tell here that it hasn’t been edited in the best way because there are several tonal shifts throughout the film. Price was given the almost impossible task of adapting the screenplay of this novel without trying to leave any of the subplots out. There are several elements of the story that could’ve been ignored and which would’ve allowed for a much better pacing, but unfortunately every time the thrills began to draw me back to the story they introduced another narrative arc that drowned the pacing once again. If the film focused exclusively on the search for this mysterious serial killer it could’ve been a strong thriller because the performances in this film were all solid. Tom Hardy is great in his role and he alone almost makes the film worth recommending. Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace, Fares Fares, Paddy Considine, Vincent Cassel are all convincing as well, but they don’t get as much screen time and some of their narrative arcs aren’t as interesting.