Though well-acted and having the potential to be incredible, Child 44 is a boring, badly-made mess of a film.
Grim, rambling, and more than a little boring, Child 44 feels like two separate stories squished into one before being smothered in misery. Supposedly telling the story of Leo (Tom Hardy) as he tries to solve a string of brutal child murders in 1950s Russia, the film is quick to get bogged down in the political intrigues of the Russian military, ignoring its central plot for extended periods of time as it tries to demonstrate, again and again and again, just how terrible life was in Soviet Russia. While this is not necessarily a bad thing – setting the tone for what was always going to be a bleak film – it ends up leaving us with a bloated, directionless story that seems to repel engagement.
Tom Hardy shines, and is really one of the few aspects of the film that is consistently good. Going from brutish and violent to a kind of timid tenderness, Hardy completely embodies his character, bringing a ranged and nuanced performance that, as his performances invariably do, proves him to be one of the best actors around. Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman are also superb, Rapace managing to combine strength and frailty in her portrayal of Leo’s wife Raisa, and Kinnaman is a chilling, skin-crawling villain. Gary Oldman, however, is criminally underused – and it is here that we start to wade into the film’s flaws. While he performs as well as he can, the second-billed actor is only in a handful of scenes, of which maybe one is important to the story, and none of which offer Oldman any chance to flesh out his character.
That, really, is the root of most of the film’s problems – it tries to fit so much in that crucial plotlines, scenes and characters are neglected at the expense of much less significant content. The killer, for example, has very little screen time, and our engagement with him suffers as a result. The relationship between Leo and Raisa, though very good at the beginning, shifts drastically towards the end of the film with no real indication as to why; it feels like a key scene has been left out, and adds confusion to boredom. There is a scene at the beginning of the film, set during the Second World War that, though well-made, adds nothing to the plot which couldn’t have been achieved with a few lines of dialogue.
There were some very good, powerful moments in the film – a scene towards the beginning that demonstrates the nature of Hardy’s character in a really excellent way, or a fight scene in the middle that is visceral and brutal and probably the most compelling scene in the film. And that is what is really frustrating about Child 44: it is clear that it is a film with enormous potential – there are nuanced, compelling characters; several strong, interesting, engaging storylines; and a setting that provides the opportunity to strip away trivialities and really explore the nature of humanity. All of this has been wasted by a shoddily-made film that tries to cover as much as it can, over-reaches, and spirals away into a dull, unfocused 2 hours.
Child 44 (2015), directed by Daniel Espinosa, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 15.