Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 17 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, some Disturbing Images, Language and a scene of Sexuality
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Written by: Richard Price
(based on the novel CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Josef Altin & Sam Spruell
CHILD 44 sounded promising from the very beginning. The case of Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo is disturbing beyond words and a lot of praise was being thrown on Tom Rob Smith’s best-selling novel. The big name cast made the film look even better and the trailer gave a promise of this being a potentially awesome thriller. However, the film’s wide release was abruptly cut to a mere 500 screens at the last possible second. This didn’t bode well and neither did some of the early reviews. Taking both of these signs with a grain of salt, I walked into CHILD 44 hoping for something that was reasonably well-executed. Over two hours later, I walked out frustrated beyond belief. CHILD 44 isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely the biggest disappointment of the year so far.
Leo Demidov is an MGB agent in Stalin’s Soviet Union. His daily routine consists of taking his job very seriously, chasing down accused enemies of the state, and returning home to Raisa, his loving wife. When his best friend’s son is murdered and the MGB claims that the boy was hit by a train, Leo isn’t convinced and finds himself going down a rabbit hole of a vicious serial killer preying on children all across Russia. Things get more complicated when he finds himself disgraced by his superiors and his wife accused of treason. Leo races against time to stop the child killer from striking again…in spite of the overwhelming opposition surrounding him.
I have not read CHILD 44, so I cannot fairly compare this film adaptation to the acclaimed novel. What I can say is that this script tried to pack too much into one movie. There are way too many plot threads and characters populating the film. As a result, the story feels muddled and unfocused. An argument could be made that CHILD 44 might have fared better as a miniseries (airing on HBO or Showtime) as opposed to the big budget flick that’s being set up to flop hard at the box office. Despite everything going on in this film and the high stakes of the mystery, I never felt fully drawn into any of it. The screenplay focuses too much on conspiracy angles and blunt political commentary as opposed to the main hunt for the serial killer who, you know, is slaughtering children across the country. The killer takes backseat to Soviet politics and that’s probably not the best way to sell you on this film.
Aside from a couple of good performances, most of the A-list cast is totally wasted in throwaway parts. Over the years Tom Hardy has proven himself to be a dependable actor. That doesn’t change in his role of Leo, but the character is a cut-and-dry protagonist. There was a potentially difficult arc that could have been fleshed out in Leo turning from government enforcer to disgraced hero, but this is briefly glanced over. Noomi Rapace plays one of the most annoying and unlikable female characters that I’ve seen in quite some time as Raisa. Meanwhile, solid performers like Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassell, Jason Clarke, and Charles Dance are unceremoniously forgotten in small parts. Paddy Considine starts off as legitimately subdued and creepy in the role of the killer, but quickly devolves into a clichéd one-note villain delivering a groan-worthy monologue full of tired clichés. The best performance actually comes from Joel Kinnaman as a corrupt MGB officer who serves as the main antagonist…instead of, you know, the serial killer who’s murdering children.
There are some nice things to say about CHILD 44. The film looks great and has a good atmosphere to it. A few scenes are well-executed, in spite of unnecessary shaky-cam moments. A confrontation on a train served as my favorite bit of the entire film and moments of Considine picking his victims are chilling. I was never totally bored during CHILD 44, mainly due to the political corruption angle lending a slightly interesting alternative to the tried-and-true procedural approach. However, the unfocused script and dreary pacing certainly didn’t do the film any favors.
CHILD 44 is a shrug-worthy effort that could have possibly been a great thriller. Aside from a handful of brief spots, the film never builds up any real suspense. The frightening serial killer (inspired by the real case of Andrei Chikatilo) takes a back seat to political corruption. This angle is interesting enough, but made the film feel messy. Tom Hardy and Joel Kinnaman deliver good performances, but the rest of the A-list cast members are totally wasted. To me, CHILD 44 is the biggest cinematic disappointment of 2015 thus far.