Dark. Slow. Disturbing. I went into Child 44 expecting all of these things and was not given everything I expected. I mean what would you expect from a story that takes place in Stalin’s Russia.
Child 44 is the story of Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), a MGB officer (they were the precursor to the KGB) who in between investigating people for the suspicion of espionage, arresting them and sending them off to torture and death stumbles upon a series of child murders. He has two problems with the case. The first is that he is mildly ethical and refuses to denounce his wife as a traitor, thus failing a loyalty test by his superiors. The second is that as any good Soviet knows murder is a crime caused by capitalism, and in the perfect state of Soviet Union murder doesn’t ever occur…and to suggest that you have a murderer in the perfection of communism is an act of treason which will be promptly investigated by the MGB, followed by your tortured filled interrogation and execution. So taking the cliche of a detective who has been taken off a case to the extreme, Demidov has to work off the books to find the man who has mutilated and killed at least 44 children.
There are some strong points to the film. Namely that one of the primary themes of the work is what a living nightmare communism is. That the state will let scores die to protect a lie that communism is perfect. That the all controlling state creates nothing but a life of paranoia. That communism provides the worst quality of life possible. Bravo Hollywood for showing the truth about communism for once.
Also, as one can almost always expect, Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman (as his commanding officer after he gets banished to the wastelands of Russia) blend into their roles with chameleon perfection and Naomi Rapace does an excellent job in yet another role that fails to be a breakout part for her.
These praises aside, the plot is tediously slow. And it wasn’t the kind of dragging pace that adds tension, it was just slow. Between the subplots of Demidov’s problems with the MGB, the horrors of communism, and his own personal problems with his life and wife, the murder mystery doesn’t get as much time as you might expect from your typical thriller. And the core problem is that your main character is an MGB officer who his own wife is afraid of. The movie from almost the first 15 minutes makes it clear what he does for a living and how he is the part of the government that everyone is afraid of. Now he may be the most ethical demon in Hell, but he is still a killer who murders people to perpetuate a tyranny. It’s just a little hard to emphasize or embrace Demidov as a protagonist, let alone a hero. And then unlike every thriller we’ve become used to in recent years we get almost no understanding of the killer. We are given hints that his problems stem from growing up in the Ukraine during Stalin’s forced starvation…but you hardly get the typical view into the mind of evil (granted you don’t have to do things in a typical way, but these are done in a thriller to add tension…something that is needed to provide some form of catharsis). As such for all of its virtues the story becomes something you always feel detached from.
Its well done, but in no way enjoyable.
For the honesty about communism I will be generous and give it 3 out of 5 (but you can wait for it on Netflix or Redbox).