Child 44

 

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A muddled adaptation of Tim Rob Smith’s novel looks at the deadly hypocrisy of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

   
Child 44 

Sub-plotted: Noomi Rapace and Tom Hardy

 

Child 44 tries too hard to be too many things. It is a police procedural posing as yet another serial killer thriller wrapped in social commentary enveloped in a history lesson. Above all, though, it feels like a novel. No doubt Tim Rob Smith’s 2008 tome is an intricate, far-reaching and rewarding read, but the scenarist Richard Price’s adaptation is far too loyal to its source material, cramming in way too many notes for a 137-minute film. In the event, Child 44 fails to succeed on any front. Yet at the heart of it all is an intriguing premise.

 

If Stalin’s Soviet Union was the ‘Paradise’ it claimed itself to be, how could there be any crimes? Thus, when former war hero Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) attempts to track down the man responsible for a series of gruesome child murders, the state steps in to stop him. In the process, Leo’s old colleague Vasili Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman) commits no end of atrocities in order to prove Stalin’s lie.

 

All this could have been reduced to a simple and provocative story line, but the Swedish director Daniel Espinosa crams in flashbacks, betrayals, backstories and an endless array of dispensable characters, cooking up a heavy-handed, improbable and indigestible dish. As the complex, conflicted hero, Hardy provides his characteristic Brando-esque magnetism as a man whose moral compass is battered from all directions, and he makes us almost root for him. But the characters can barely keep their heads above the tide of Rob Smith’s political agendas (state-funded hypocrisy, paranoia, homophobia, infanticide...) and narrative U-turns.

 

Quite frankly, the film needs to slow down, at least to get under the skin of the child killer Vladimir Malevich (Paddy Considine), inspired by the real-life Butcher of Rostov, Andrei Chikatilo. But, no, Espinosa trots out a series of ludicrous fight sequences in an ill-advised attempt to keep us on the edge of our seats. All he does, however, is prompt us to wonder how he managed to attract such a sterling cast, including Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace and Vincent Cassel. One suspects they just wanted the chance to hone their Russian accents.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Sam Spruell, Ned Dennehy, Fares Fares, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Mark Lewis Jones, Charles Dance, Tara Fitzgerald.

 

Dir Daniel Espinosa, Pro Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer and Greg Shapiro, Screenplay Richard Price, from the novel by Tim Rob Smith, Ph Oliver Wood, Pro Des Jan Roelfs, Ed Pietro Scalia and Dylan Tichenor, Music Jon Ekstrand, Costumes Jenny Beavan.

 

Worldview Entertainment/Scott Free Productions-Entertainment One.

137 mins. Czech Republic/UK/USA/Russia. 2014. Rel: 17 April 2015. Cert. 15.