Review: Child 44

A few days ago, I came across an article about Russia banning Daniel Espinosa’s thriller Child 44. According to the article, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wouldn’t allow the film to be screened in country because the creators of the film “distorted historical facts” about the Soviet Union.

Whatever the reason why it was cancelled, the idea behind the cancellation was in the right. I wouldn’t know about the historical facts, but this was bad and I mean bad!

Image by Summit Entertainment

Based on Tom Rob Smith’s novel set in Stalin-era Soviet Union, this film stars Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov, who draws plentiful comparisons to another character in literature: Lucifer. Leo is a celebrated MGB agent, just as Lucifer was considered to be the most beautiful of God’s angels.

When Leo receives orders from his commanding officer to denounce his wife Raisa, played by Noomi Rapace, based on accusations of treason & treachery against the state, Leo refuses and they are both exiled and cast out of Moscow and cast into a derelict suburban neighborhood that I cannot recall but symbolizes the dark, dank and cold realm that could be described as hell on earth, as Lucifer refused God’s orders and was himself cast from heaven to hell.

While Leo and Raisa’s lives are upended, a serial child murderer is running amok, but the government does not acknowledge this because in this time, that world, the citizens believed that “There are no murders in paradise.”

My entire experience watching this film can be summarized beautifully by one particular scene: a sex scene between Rapace and Hardy’s characters. Leo personifies the film, giving it everything it has and, I think, enjoying himself at the same time, while Raisa, symbolizing the audience, in particular my experience watching this, is indifferent; she doesn’t look like she is enjoying what Leo’s doing to her, she doesn’t care but she doesn’t stop him.

This movie did absolutely nothing for me. It took the “thrill” out of thriller; I found no artistry, no surprise, no beauty, nothing.

Child 44 touches on a Hitchcock motif of the couple who are shackled to each other due to tragic circumstances. Initially Raisa sees her relationship with her husband as a loveless marriage based on fear and nothing more, but over the course of time, that perspective changes but what is sad is that doesn’t salvage the film. If Leo’s character is a reference to Lucifer, then Raisa should be considered modeled after Persephone, the unwilling bride of Hades in Greek mythology or at least that is how she starts the film, when she ends it, that edge, how she sees herself in that relationship that could have been interpreted as feminist she had once, is gone.

I can’t even remember most of the characters’ names and what they were supposed to contribute to this. I remember that Joel Kinnaman was a sadistic nutjob, I recall Jason Clarke playing fugitive for five minutes, then bound, gagged, interrogated tortured and then shot, I remember Academy Award nominee Gary Oldman was probably channeling Commissioner Gordon from the Dark Knight Trilogy, I remember Fares Fares’ character bringing the child murders to Leo’s attention and then he’s discarded/abandoned by the narrative and eventually shot, by Kinnaman & the accents by the actors were so opaque, it was difficult to tell who gave a good performance if anyone gave a good performance at all.

I couldn’t connect with this movie on any level and the sad thing is that going in, I knew it would be a failure because I’ve heard multiple reviews ripping the film apart.

Daniel Espinosa Image by By Frankie Fouganthin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Looking back, I’m trying to figure out what Espinosa contributed to this feature because I felt that Leo and Raisa’s story envelopes the central plot of the child murders; there was no clear direction from what I saw. Perhaps that was the fault of screenwriter Richard Price, or was Espinosa’s, I don’t know.

The cinematography and editing of this picture didn’t do any favors for this film. Philippe Rousselot was way too friendly with the close-ups and Dylan Tichenor’s editing was all over the place it was hard to determine what the hell was going on; especially in that war sequence at the start of the picture.

The music was excessive. Jon Ekstrand’s score didn’t know when to start or stop so it felt continuous to the point where the film feels as if it’s drowning in technical incompetence.

The final fight scene between Hardy, Rapace and Kinnaman’s characters pretty much sums the film as an entirety. The three actors are sloshing and slamming each other in the mud tirelessly trying to survive in a completely disgusting spectacle and that is what this film is: a disgusting spectacle.

Thus far, Child 44 is the crown jewel of a weak year in film this year. At least for me it is.

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