Review: CHILD 44 (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: CHILD 44 (2015)

2.5 stars
Although CHILD 44 is tense and mostly well-acted, this overcrowded Soviet-era thriller tries too hard to mesh many elements all at once.

It's been three years since Swedish director Daniel Espinosa made his Hollywood debut in SAFE HOUSE (2012), a sluggish but financially-successful thriller that starred Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Fortunately, Espinosa fares slightly better in CHILD 44, a Soviet-era thriller based on Tom Rob Smith's bestselling first novel in a trilogy featuring former MGB (Ministry of State Security) Agent Leo Demidov.


Set in 1953 Soviet-era Russia, CHILD 44 follows a former war hero-turned-secret police agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) investigating the grisly murder of a boy, who was found dead and naked beside the railway track. However, the official report concludes that the boy was the victim of a train accident since murder are restricted as diseases of capitalism. Still, Leo insists on investigating the case further to find out the truth. Things get complicated when his superior (Vincent Cassel) assigned him to investigate his own teacher-wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), who is accused of being a spy. When Leo chooses to defend Raisa, he ends up getting demoted and both of them are exiled to the remote town of Volsk. Soon, Leo finds himself back in the case again when another dead boy is discovered in similar fashion.

On the surface level, Daniel Espinosa's gritty direction suits the bleak subject matter that doesn't shy away with its graphic depiction of violence and brutality.

Still, it was the stellar cast that stands out the most. If you can get over with their wobbly Russian accents, most of the acting performances here are exceptionally worthwhile. Tom Hardy fares the best as the headstrong and morally-conflicted character who tries to make things right, particularly with his level of determination to solve the child-murder case even if it means for him to fight against the rigid law of the Soviet system. Noomi Rapace, who already proven her worth collaborating successfully with Tom Hardy in last year's THE DROP, has again showcased her solid acting range in CHILD 44. Here, playing as husband and wife, both Hardy and Rapace continues to impress with their strong onscreen chemistry.

The rest of the cast, including Gary Oldman and Joel Kinnaman is equally captivating with their respective roles. Even the small roles by Vincent Cassel, Jason Clarke and Charles Dance are each given sufficient time to make their screen presence felt.

The tense confrontation that leads to a brutal encounter between Leo and a fugitive named Anatoly Tarasovich Brodsky (Jason Clarke) in the open field, as well as a shocking moment involving the point-blank execution.

Although I appreciate the layered storyline that the movie tries to present here, Richard Price's adapted screenplay drags a lot with different elements overlapping one after another. This is especially evident with Pietro Scalia and Dylan Tichenor's sloppy editing, which inflicts more harm than good. At first, the story starts out promisingly as an intriguing murder mystery, but Leo's hunt for the serial killer is sadly understated to make way for a drawn-out subplot involving his marital struggle with Raisa.

Then there's the identity of the serial killer which is revealed midway in the movie. Frankly, I don't mind about the revelation of the serial killer as long as the character is well-defined and compelling enough to sustain interest until the end. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case as the serial-killer character feels like a cardboard cutout. And to make things worse, the final confrontation between Leo and the serial killer feels disappointingly rushed.

Like EASY MONEY and SAFE HOUSE, Daniel Espinosa favours a lot of shaky-cam technique in this movie to evoke a sense of cinematic urgency. While shaky camerawork can work to its advantages if utilised well, Oliver Wood's dark and dingy cinematography resulted most of the action sequences -- one of them is the ugly fight scene inside a prison train -- so frustratingly difficult to distinguish properly as if it was shot with mud caked all over the lens.

Finally, the long-winded epilogue is seriously a test of patience that goes on almost forever. Not only the particular scene could have benefited with some trimming work, it also feels strangely odd with its happy-ending approach in favour to shed some positive light to the otherwise depressing movie.


Given its attention-grabbing premise blessed with a solid cast, CHILD 44 could have been emerged as one of the best movies of 2015. Despite some of the movie's worthwhile moments, CHILD 44 certainly deserves a better screen treatment than what is shown here.

* This review is written courtesy from TGV press screening *

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