Child 44 (2015)
“How do you find a killer who doesn’t exist?”
Child 44 (2015)
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace
Synopsis: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.
To talk with an accent or not is always a tricky one for films set in a foreign country: if a moviemaker working in an English-speaking country wants to make money, then subtitles are out; having Russian soldiers with American or British accents doesn’t really work, but having your actors speak with foreign accents, as if they are speaking English in their homeland, invariably invites ridicule from critics and audiences alike. In Child 44, director Daniel Espinosa plumps for the foreign accent approach, and thanks to accomplished performances from the likes of Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman and Joel Kinnaman, he pretty much gets away with it.
The foreign land is Communist Russia in the 1950s. Uncle Joe Stalin’s grip on power remains as tight as ever and the country is blanketed in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Nobody is safe from a visit from the military police, most of whom equate accusation with guilt, and use interrogation as a means of extracting a confession rather than finding the truth. Although Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy – Warrior) enjoys the privileges bestowed upon officers in the force, he at least has a measure of conscience and humanism that most of his colleagues lack, unlike the ambitious but cowardly Vassili (Joel Kinnaman – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Robocop), who covets both Demidov’s position and his wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace – Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows). When she comes under suspicion of being an enemy of the state, Leo refuses to denounce her, even though she has recently revealed that she married him out of fear, and so the couple are exiled to a remote town. Demidov is disturbed to discover that a child murder in his new home town bears unmistakable similarities to the murder of a colleague’s child he was investigating in Moscow, and he soon realises that a serial killer responsible for the deaths of 44 children is operating on the rail line that connects the town with Moscow. Enlisting the aid of his wife and his initially hostile superior officer (Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Demidov defies the authorities and secretly returns to Moscow to hunt down the killer, even though he realises that by doing so he is providing Vassili with the perfect excuse to have him executed.
Although Child 44 undoubtedly has a number of problems, they’re easily outweighed by the good stuff, and its difficult to see just why the movie bombed so badly at the box office. Richard Price’s script feels a little too busy, it’s true – at times it’s as if we’re watching two or three stories that have been rather clumsily stitched together to make one movie – but it tells a compelling story which captures the oppressive atmosphere and crippling paranoia that haunts the citizens of any tyrannical regime. Demidov’s moral dilemma is a fascinating one; he’s essentially a square peg in a round hole, an essentially decent man whose loyalty is at odds with those of his masters. Some might argue that his relationship with his wife could have been cut from the movie, but it adds an extra dimension which prevents Demidov from being just another cookie cutter hero, and provides the movie with an opportunity to explore the stresses a nation’s political ideology can place on a marriage. Hardy’s sympathetic and affecting performance is matched by that of Paddy Considine in the much smaller role of the killer, a weak family man who, like Demidov, has been shaped by the traumatic events of his childhood. He’s one of those characters whose impact would be weakened by greater screen time, and its strange how his is a character who is given a depth which is completely absent from Vasilli, who is something of a one-dimensional bad guy completely beyond redemption.
(Reviewed 7th September 2015)