5.5 out of 10
Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is an interrogator for the Russian MGB, assigned to seek out and arrest traitors. When the son of a colleague is found murdered and his bosses refuse to acknowledge the boy’s death was anything but accidental, Leo and his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) risk being declared traitors themselves as they’re sent to the remote town of Volsk where they work with a general (Gary Oldman) to find the killer.
The Iron Curtain insured that Americans weren’t privy to everything that was going on in the U.S.S.R. in the decades between World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is why this dramatic thriller which looks at the country’s stance on murder is such an interesting concept for a film.
It’s clear that times were tough and there was constant paranoia among the populace that the military police could show up at your door at any time and take you away for interrogation, and much of that is what drives the film’s tension. It may seem like an odd choice for Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) since at times, it feels like the type of movie we would get during fall awards season, yet it never knows whether it wants to be award fodder or an action movie, so it’s never particularly good enough as either. The action sequences seem so shoehorned into the drama that they feel out of place, leaving you wondering whether Espinosa was hired to liven up what would have been a fairly dull story otherwise.
Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace have already proven themselves to be a powerful on-screen duo from their very different roles in last year’s The Drop, and they have some great dramatic scenes together, but their Russian accents tend to be distracting. That’s generally the case all around as Espinosa has such a decent cast whose mix of bad accents and overacting tend to take away from the film’s dramatic moments being taken seriously.
Espinosa once again reunites with his regular collaborator Joel Kinnaman, playing Vasili, a rival colleague of Leo’s who sets him and his wife up to be dubbed traitors by the powers that be, sending them into exile. Kinnaman isn’t nearly as credible as the film’s antagonist as he has been in other roles, so Espinosa’s loyalty to the actor proves unfounded.
This is another classic example of a screenplay with too many ideas, trying to make things more complex while losing track of the main story of trying to find the serial killer who has been leaving a trail of butchered boys. The narrative is generally confusing as Leo and Raisa travel back and forth between Moscow and Volsk for no apparent reason. It’s also hard figuring out where their relationship is at, because at certain times, it’s unclear whether Raisa even loves her husband or not.
The movie is painfully slow and dull and not helped by its two hours-plus running time where you constantly wonder when it’s going to start paying off on all of that set-up. A good 15 to 20 minutes could have easily been cut out from the movie, particularly the third or fourth time Raisa is being threatened in some way.
Eventually, the viewer learns who the killer is, well before Leo, but once we know the person’s identity, you might expect that all the suspenseful build-up would lead to a climactic face-off. Nope. We won’t spoil what happens, but the person playing the killer gives such an overwrought performance, you wonder whether it was even worth revealing the character’s identity at all.
The Bottom Line:
Somewhere within Child 44, there’s an intriguing story with potential that deserved to be told, but it gets lost in a meandering, overly-complicated narrative that often loses sight of the story it’s trying to get across.