Child 44 (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in 'Child44'

Dir. Daniel Espinosa, US/UK/Czech Republic/Russia, 2015, 137mins

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman

Set against the backdrop of Stalinist Russia, Safehouse director Espinosa has a doozy of a hook; a child homicide case that contradicts the leader’s manifesto that there are “no murders in paradise”, so it’s buried along with 43 other similar cases. It becomes the obsession of a disgraced military policeman, Leo (Tom Hardy), a status afforded to him when he refuses to denounce his wife (Noomi Rapace) for being a traitor, even though her love for him isn’t what it seems. Banished to the arse-end of Russia, they work together, assisted by a local General (Gary Oldman), in order to try and right some wrongs within a culture of deception and corruption.

Somewhere in Child 44 is a decent, surprising procedural thriller, where Tom Hardy’s character seeks a form of redemption in order to catch a serial killer. It could have been a taut, unexpected game of cat and mouse weaved throughout the political goings-on of the time. Instead, this is a muddle of genres which fast becomes an exercise in tedium, one that cannot decide what it wants to be: war torn love story, political thriller, or serial killer flick, so attempts to be all of them.

Such a hotchpotch approach leads to pacing issues, particularly when plot mechanics are ramped up in the final third and characters appear to inexplicably go from a situation of peril, to being free within the space of an edit. This also leads to so many contrivances, it’s laughable; the tenuous link between Leo and the killer just doesn’t work, and the ludicrous way all of the main players happen to stumble upon eachother in the same clearing in the woods for a showdown. For a film that has been relatively snail paced in its build-up, a little more time could have been taken with the pay-off.

The direction is also a murky disappointment, in particular the fight sequences. Whether it was achieved in post to receive a more audience friendly rating, the edits are so fast and close that you have no idea who’s hitting who or what’s even taking place on-screen, which subsequently alleviates any impact they might have had.

The only real constant the film has is in the performances of Hardy and Rapace; even if his bruised monster routine is becoming too familiar, he carries off the accent with aplomb (something that can’t be said for a lot of his co-stars, finger pointed in the direction of Oldman, who appears to think he’s doing Nil By Mouth on a couple of occasions) and holds your attention when the run time begins to test your patience. Rapace is even better as the repressed wife/would-be spy, although her arc seems rushed, with the character’s development slightly unbelievable during the film’s choppy final third, her ambiguous motivations make her the most interesting person to watch.

Pitched as a whodunit, Child 44 is more of a who-gives-a-stuff, and a wasted opportunity considering the talent involved. Not a terrible film by any stretch, just an incredibly frustrating one.

Review by Matthew Rodgers

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