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British Film Review: CHILD 44
Directed By Daniel Espinosa
There’s a gripping and fascinating thriller lost somewhere in CHILD 44. A film about a murderer killing children in a country, under a regime that doesn’t believe murder exists, and how an oppressive government can be responsible for creating a killer. A story about the search for justice and knowing that pursuing the murderer is itself considered a crime which comes with the highest penalty. There are moments when flashes of this film appear throughout CHILD 44. Unfortunately they occur too infrequently and at the expense of much less interesting ideas and plot developments.
The film begins with Leo Demidov, a young child, escaping from an orphanage. He’s quickly adopted by a Russian solider and grows up fighting in the Second World War, presumably with some distinction. Following the war, he joins the MGB (Ministry of State Security). It’s an unnecessary long opening first act which also sees a rather clumsily handled sequence in which Demidov (portrayed by Tom Hardy as an adult), searching for an enemy of the state tracks down the man to a farm. At the farm, a family with two children, have been keeping the dissident safe. As Demidov chases the man, a fellow MGB officer kills both the children’s parents as punishment for their crime. The scene serves multiple purposes, setting up Vasili, the murdering MGB officer as the film’s main antagonist, but also to illustrate the compassion at the heart of Demidov. As an orphan he understands the life these children will now face and his violent outburst at Vasili reveals him to be the man who will go against authority in dishing out punishment in the pursuit of justice.
Later in the film, Demidov is tested by his colleagues when he is told to find evidence incriminating his wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), as an informant. She’s a school teacher and some colleagues have recently been revealed to be informants. At the same time, a colleague, Alexei’s child has been found dead. The official report states that he was hit by a train, but when another child is found dead with similar wounds Demidov begins to investigate.
If this all sounds convoluted and confusing, it’s because the film is, taking too long to focus in on its central theme. As such the film leaves you floundering for understanding and struggling to be engaged.
After staying loyal to his wife, Demidov is shipped off to a Volsk to serve under a new commander, Nesterov (Gary Oldman). Almost as soon as he arrives another child’s body is discovered, stretching credibility, and somehow Demidov convinces Nesterov to help him investigate these murders in another poorly handled scene.
The discovery of the boy in Volsk stretches credibility of the plot, and from this point on the film meanders through a series of contrived, predictable and clichéd thriller tropes before landing on a resolution that fails to properly address the question of how an authoritarian regime that denies the existence of murder comes to terms with the revelation of a serial killer, and how responsible the regime is for creating and enabling one.
CHILD 44’s biggest strength is its strong cast. Hardy is excellent as Demidov. Despite the lack of nuance in his character, he manages to reveal internal contradictions and struggles that help keep you engaged. Rapace, despite having little chemistry with Hardy, is committed and feisty throughout. And Oldman, though used sparingly still manages to steal every scene he’s in. Paddy Considine, Joel Kinnaman, Jason Clarke and Vincent Cassel round off the cast in small but not unsubstantial roles.
CHILD 44 is released on DVD & Blu-Ray 24 August 2015.
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