Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Child 44

I sat down to watch this film, screened in the UK on Channel 4 last week, thinking it was a depiction of the life and times of Andrei Chikatilo, The Red Ripper. Turns out it's just a work of fiction, loosely incorporating the MO of the infamous Russian serial killer. It almost held together though as a story and threw up some dark observations regarding the USSR in post-WWII Europe.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) in 2015 and based on Tom Rob Smith's 2008 novel, the film stars Tom Hardy (Legend, Sucker Punch) in the lead role of one of three brothers trying to make their way against the overpowering paranoia of the regime. There's quite a cast on show here with the sadly underused but commanding Gary Oldman (Leon, Sid and Nancy), Noomi Rapace ('The Girl...' Trilogy), Joel Kinnaman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Killing), Fares Fares (Zero Dark Thirty, Safe House) and Charles Dance even pops in a for a scene!

The basic plotline is that our hero, who is a disgraced official of the regime suspects foul play when a child is killed by the railway tracks. The authorities want to pass it off as a train accident but it's obvious from the injuries that someone has mutilated the body. He tries to raise it with his line of command but, as he realises, so keen is the nation to not admit that communism could create a killer he is thwarted at every turn, threatened and blocked. "There are no killers in paradise", is the country's moto when it comes to crime. He has to take matters into his own hands in order to try to catch the killer, wife in his wake, as they start on an adventurous journey across the country ducking and diving, weaving routes through the authorities trying to stop them, one of them being his brother.

The first hour of the film is very slow, setting the scene for far too long, enabling the viewer to understand what Stalin had created in the country and how Hitler had ensured that even from his grave, he was creating chaos. It plods along, it's very dark, the actors are putting on Russian accents (boo) which a lot of the time they're mumbling, making it quite hard to follow. I spent much of the first half of the film working out who was who, what their background (via an orphanage) was about and where they fitted in. Get past that though and as the actions starts to gather pace, it becomes more like a thriller/drama and a bit more enjoyable.

The cast are quite superb in their portrayal of the characters here, especially Hardy in the lead and Rapace supporting. They are both very convincing and Hardy's performance certainly is one reason I stuck with it through the first hour. There's something not quite right overall though. It lacks bite and beef. It's too laid back for much of the time for its own good and plods, even in the most exciting parts. It's a shame, as there was potential here for a great story, not merely a depiction of the dark and oppressive USSR of the day. The sets are gloomy, depressing and dark too, the lighting is subdued throughout - even in broad daylight - the buildings reflect a post-war neglect and a country which hasn't bothered to rebuild for their people, just make sure that they are controlled, work and live life as they are told.

The production would have been much better served by spending more time with the killer and making a thriller of the chase from both sides. We hardly enter the world of the fruit-loop, nor discover anything about his clearly interesting and state-abused background until 5 minutes from the end - and then it's glossed over. I really wanted to love this film but I could not bring myself to do so. I do seriously think that it would have been better in Russian with subtitles, rather than this absurd accented-Hollywood thing, but maybe that's a personal view - and one which wouldn't maximise take at the box office. Certainly worth a view for the exceptionally good acting from the leads, but a disappointment otherwise.


  1. Thank you for the review of child44. I have to say not seen the film but read the book about two years ago and thought it was great.


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