Child 44 (2015)

Child 44 (2015)
  • Time: 137 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Daniel Espinosa
  • Cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Vincent Cassel


Based on the first of a trilogy by Tom Rob Smith and set in the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. The plot is about an idealistic pro-Stalin security officer who decides to investigate a series of child murders in a country where supposedly this sort of crime doesn’t exist. The state would not hear of the existence of a child murderer let alone a serial killer. He gets demoted and exiled but decides, with just the help of his wife, to continue pursuing the case.


  • I have always found the Soviet era interesting, so as you can imagine I was very excited to see this film. I have not read the book that this is an adaption of, so I can’t speak of this movie’s faithfulness to it.

    The directing is mostly good, the way the scenes flow and unfold is very palpable, though a tad too slow for my taste. The movie did a good job with the ‘fight scenes’ for sure, they were very intense even if they did come across as a bit too ‘Bourne’ish.

    The acting was something I was skeptical about going in, but must say it’s actually quite good. Normally in these types of movies the acting becomes cartoony the moment a Russian accent is heard, but here I never felt anything about the performances was cartoony or hammy. Tom Hardy accomplishes what very few actors have, that being a non-Russian believably portraying a Russian. Seriously, if I didn’t know anything about Tom Hardy going into this movie, I would have thought he was a Russian actor with an anglicized name.

    However, while the acting was fantastic, the actual characterization wasn’t. The script was lazy in this respect. For example, Demidov (Hardy) had this whole back story of being a survivor of the ‘Holodomor’ (a famine deliberately caused by Joseph Stalin that killed millions of Ukrainians) yet it ended up not having any significance on his character whatsoever. Not properly utilizing a major historical event like that also feels like a missed opportunity in itself.

    Also, the motivation for the antagonist to commit the child murders was very shoddy. (the other antagonist of the movie had the cliché ‘hungry for power’ motive) I do like how the movie didn’t shy away from showing the wanton nature of Communist enforcers, perhaps the one convincing bit of characterization in the whole film.

    Despite some flaws, this was definitely a good watch.

  • Tony Barton

    Child 44, is a post WW11 thriller, based on the Tom Smith novel of the same name. The movie is directed by Daniel Espinosa and stars, amongst others, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace.

    MGB Agent Leo Demidov (Hardy), discovers files containing several mysterious child deaths. After a bit of digging, he becomes convinced that the deaths are a result of a serial killer at work in the area. Demidov reports his findings to his superiors, who find his investigations a nuisance and banish him and his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) from the city. Demidov runs into General Nesterov (Oldman), who just happens to be investigating a child death, that bears a remarkable resemblance to the deaths he uncovered. Demidov approaches Nesterov and offers his opinion, and is immediately rebuffed and told to mind his own business.

    Demidov perseveres however, and gradually gets the General’s attention who decides to further investigate Demidov’s findings. Gradually, the General also becomes to accept that there’s more to these deaths than meets the eye. The investigation gradually begins to draw the attention of Demidov’s ex employers, who aren’t to pleased by it all.

    So the race is on and Demidov soon discovers to what lengths some people will go to prevent him uncovering the truth.

  • The world of Child 44 is a dark one filled with distrust and betrayal, where people denounce their family, friends, and neighbours in order to survive. It is a world where, according to the Russian government, crime does not exist. Yet, there is murder to be found in paradise.

    Andrei Chikatilo, on whose crimes Tom Rob Smith based his award-winning crime novel, was responsible for the sexual assault, murder, and mutilation of at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. The film adaptation features a predominantly shrouded figure who, in theory, should be as terrifying as the so-called Red Ripper who inspired him. In execution, the serial killer makes for a whimpering character with a not particularly compelling motivation for his gruesome crimes.

    Child 44 focuses on the killings’ investigation and the killer’s manhunt, but it also makes room for numerous narrative strands. Director Daniel Espinosa’s original cut purportedly ran for about 5 1/2 hours. This would suggest that either Espinosa had quite a lot of material to deal with or that he simply likes shooting a lot of footage. All signs point to the former as the opening prologue, which compresses about 20 years of back story into less than fifteen minutes of screen time, foreshadows a density of events that will not be so gracefully rendered. Espinosa introduces the young Leo Demidov, one of the millions of boys orphaned from the state-imposed famine against the Ukrainians. Leo grows up to be a war hero; in 1945, he is photographed planting the Soviet flag in Reichstag, Berlin, an image that will symbolise Soviet dominance for years to come. By 1953, Leo is married to Raisa (Noomi Rapace) and a loyal member of the MGB, the precursor to the KGB.

    The adult Leo is portrayed by the compulsively gripping Tom Hardy. This means that, despite Leo’s forays into work-mandated violence, he is not without compassion. He refuses to shoot Anatoly Brodsky (Jason Clarke), an accused traitor who would rather stab his own gut than be captured by the MGB soldiers. Later, Leo upbraids one of his men, the ambitious and calculating Vasili (Joel Kinnaman), for shooting the couple who sheltered Brodsky in front of their two young daughters. His dressing down of Vasili comes back to haunt him when their boss Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel) assigns Leo to spy on Raisa, whose name was one of the seven reportedly given up by Anatoly. Leo’s refusal to deem her guilty forces Kuzmin to ship the couple off to the small industrial town of Volsk, where Leo is demoted in rank and Raisa, a schoolteacher, is now a janitor.

    Beset by professional and personal woes, Leo is determined to solve the mystery of who is killing all these young boys, removing their organs with surgical precision, and leaving their naked bodies in the woods. How can he when his new supervisor General Timur (Gary Oldman) suspects that Leo is a mole sent to Volsk to rat on Timur and his team? How can he when any attempt to re-enter Moscow to interview potential witnesses could endanger not only his and Raisa’s lives but also the lives of her family and all of their friends? Meanwhile, the dead bodies keep piling up.

    Setting the story during this particular time period was a clever choice by Smith. This is an era where paranoia ruled the so-called paradise, where stray words or perceived shifts in allegiance could make or break lives. Innocence is an impossibility – everyone knows what happens if you’re marked as a traitor or refuse to name names. Whilst Espinosa initially does a good job of crafting such a toxic atmosphere, the gloom and doom becomes too much. Even scenes which unfold in sunshine feel coated with grime, and the oppressiveness is almost laughable.

    Espinosa also fails to connect all the narrative threads in an elegant manner. Perhaps the re-inclusion of some of the three hours of excised footage might have mitigated this, perhaps Richard Price’s screenplay was flawed from the get-go. In any case, all of the components exist separately from each other and that disconnect proves fatal as the film progresses. Leo’s interest in the murders, for example, comes off as half-hearted even though one can imagine that he’s motivated by his own childhood traumas and a need to redeem himself.

    Fortunately, Espinosa has assembled a powerhouse cast who make Child 44 a fairly fascinating watch even if one lacks the investment in the rhythmless and overly convoluted plot.

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  • “I would rather spend a lifetime in a sh*t-hole like this with you, than spend one minute in Moscow without you.”

    First let me clarify something. I’m not an anti-communist or supporter of anti-Russian propaganda. Neither am I an anti-capitalist or against the other superpower on the other side of the planet. I’m a tiny little person who leads a modest life in probably one of the smallest countries in the world. To label this film as propaganda against the USSR, sounds to me in the present world situation quite exaggerated. Who the hell would benefit from that? Isn’t this movie trying to visualize the circumstances in which ordinary people had to live and survive in the post-war period? I can’t tell if the shown images are truthful or not. But I’m glad I’m not living in such harsh conditions these days.

    What a depressing and frightening regime this must have been with repression and blind obedience as main values. Turning in others as a resort. Those who are your blood brothers today, could become your worst enemies the next day. Regardless of your status or rank. Before you know it, you’re deported to the farthest corner of Mother Russia to do some filthy work in deplorable conditions. Downgraded to a meaningless and insignificant person. And that’s the strong point of this film. The portrait of a society under control of a police institution, in this case the Russian State Security (MGB, forerunner of the KGB) in a post-war, post-Stalin regime. The MGB was the security apparatus of the USSR that made sure that loyalty to the communist regime, remained intact. Dissidents, anti-communist and political opponents (and annoying individuals) were carefully chased down and removed. The MGB wasn’t perhaps as violent as the NKVD, but they weren’t choirboys either, I guess.

    “Child 44” is grayish, dirty and confrontational. The misery, the poverty, the paranoia, the hopelessness and the ruthless repression are portrayed in an impressive way. It’s certainly not a film that makes you happy. Unfortunately the main topic (a topic the whole movie actually revolves around) was pushed a bit into the background. The serial killer theme is rather poorly developed. The only interesting thing was the way they dealt with these crimes. The existence of a serial killer was unthinkable (“There’s no murder in paradise”). Only a capitalist regime can produce a killer. That’s what the Soviet doctrine claims. The actual murders are scanty visualized. The final denouement and unmasking was a bit too simple. So don’t expect a “Silence of the Lambs Made in Russia”, but a kind of docu-drama about this chilly Russia.

    In terms of acting, there’s really nothing to wrong, though most characters were stereotypical portrayed. Many will criticize the use of a fake Russian accent. Perhaps it’s for some very annoying, but personally I thought this contributed to the overall atmosphere of the film. A Russian speaking perfect English would be unnatural to me. And it would make me really nervous if all conversations would be held purely in Russian. Tom Hardy plays an outstanding role as the war hero Leo Demidov who slowly but surely sees his status breaking down. Noomi Rapace (I thought she was magnificent as Lisbeth Salander in “Män som hatar kvinnor”) stands her ground as the embittered wife of Leo. And Joel “Run all night” Kinnaman wasn’t so bad as the vengeful Vasili (a coward who becomes threatening due to his acquired dominant position). Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the book this film is based on, since I thought this was an excellent film. But there’s this golden rule when it’s about book adaptations. In most cases they disappoint. Da?

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  • I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the film for it’s confusing telling of the story. The film is based on a novel which I have never read, and as I was watching it, it was evident that the story had a lot of holes in it and at times the sequence of events just did not make sense. To start with, at the beginning of the film Leo at age 10 or 12 is shown playing with a coin that seemed to be of sentimental value to him but we are never shown the background story of that. Raisa, Leo’s wife, at times is shown to hold resentment towards her husband who loves her dearly, and again there is no direct explanation to that. When Leo finally confronts the murderer towards the end, the murderer indicates that he knows Leo or knew him in the past but again there is no explanation for that.

    Tom Hardy, as always, delivers great performance, owning the screen every time he shows up, captivating your attention with his characterization of a reluctant Russian soldier haunted by his childhood and the things he had to do in the line of duty. Noomi Rapace also portrays the character of Raisa beautifully and holds her own against Tom Hardy. Gary Oldman, on the other hand, did not do much in the film as his character was not given much space anyway, so I think any actor would be able to fill in his shoes.

    The 7/10 that I’m giving this film is only in appreciation for the great performances by the two leads, if I was only rating the film I would give it 5. I don’t know if the film was really meant to come out the way it did, but I’m willing to bet that the plot holes were caused by too much editing and cutting that resulted in the omission of important sequential events.

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