Based on Tom Rob Smith’s novel of the same name, Child 44 is a brand new mystery/thriller exploring corruption, murder, political oppression and freedom of speech, and is filled with some of the finest British and American actors working today. Yet somehow it still feels a touch flat, and certainly won’t be a film for everyone.
Set during Stalin’s reign of Cold War Russia, the tale of a Ministry of State Security Agent (a police officer/military man usually concerning himself with tracking down spies, terrorists, and various other enemies of the state – many of whom may have never actually done anything to warrant his attention) starting to investigate the murder of his best friend’s young son; only to be told by those in power a murder could not possibly have taken place because they’re in Moscow, in the USSR, and there are no murders in paradise; before attempting to continue his investigation and finding government imposed roadblocks ahead of him at every turn (the threat of demotion, relocation, death, scared witnesses, falsified records, etc. etc. etc.) is undeniably intriguing but still lacking in certain areas.
Though it’s hard to say exactly what those areas are; the plot itself is engaging (the relationships, the determination of our hero to uncover the truth, the struggles he has to overcome, and the constant unease you feel while watching only heighten the experience), the direction from Safe House‘s Daniel Espinosa is more than competent, and the acting from just about everyone involved is superb.
Tom Hardy (The Drop) is excellent as always as the overly inquisitive hero determined to uncover the truth whatever the cost; perfectly suiting the military role, appearing strong during any action/spy sequences, yet being believably vulnerable when the situation calls for it (one particular scene involving revelations with his wife was brilliantly acted by both Hardy and his on screen wife, and proved to be amazingly engaging). Noomi Rapace also appeared alongside Hardy again (after recently starring alongside one another in The Drop) and did a fantastic job of playing a strong woman living in the USSR; not only fulfilling the role of Hardy’s wife, but making us question her motivations, whether or not she can be trusted, and making everyone really feel for her character; yet they were just the tip of the iceberg, as Child 44 contains a hugely impressive and lengthy cast list.
The supporting cast is also packed full of strong character actors such as Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises); Joel Kinnaman (the RoboCop star who puts in his best big screen performance so far); Paddy Considine (Blitz); Vincent Cassel (Mesrine); Jason Clarke (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes); and Charles Dance (Game Of Thrones/Dracula Untold). Meaning there’s an abundance of truly amazing acting talent involved with Child 44, and every single character, no matter how minor feels believable and thoroughly grounded within the world (something helped by the decision to have everyone talk with an Eastern European accent).
Characterisation is also strong, as like the entire, scarily believable plot each character is well written; sure there are one or two cliches (people who are nothing but vicious or power hungry), but even they seem have their own motivations, and every character (whether they’re doing the right thing or not) seems to genuinely struggle with the decisions put in front of them. A testament to both Tom Rob Smith’s novel, and the Richard Price (Ransom) screenplay.
Though despite the acting, the intriguing plot, the well-planned twists and turns, the best efforts of all involved, Child 44 still feels lacking. It’s not a bad film in any way, shape or form, but at over two hours it feels a touch too long, and a little flabby. There are certain sections which make for excellent break points, and suggest it would’ve worked far better as a two or three part event Television series, and perhaps it would eventually be seen my more people given such a format.
Guaranteed to satisfy and entertain fans of the book Child 44 is a well acted, well scripted and well directed film with an engaging plot, strong characterisation, and a stark look at now thankfully defunct practices. However it’s too long, to flat, and simply won’t do enough to win over the casual cinemagoer (a shame, seen as how the writing and cast are clearly excellent).
A must-see for any fan of the novel, a political belter and a thrilling tale of a man fighting for justice against an oppressive system, but a film which will sadly pass most by the wayside, and weigh just a little to heavy on the minds of others.