Film: Child 44

Release Date: April 17, 2015

Based On: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Overview: Under Stalin’s rule, the Soviet Union thrives on the lie that it is a utopia devoid of crime. It is under this principle that MGB Agent Leo Demidov must operate. But in the aftermath of Stalin’s death, Leo and his wife are disgraced and exiled from Moscow. His worldview quickly disintegrates, leaving him staring at the bleak reality of a country plagued by poverty, starvation, and sickness. When a child is murdered, Leo begins a private investigation in an attempt to redeem himself. But nearly every move he makes is observed by officials ready to execute him on the basis of treason. What Leo finds buried under the frozen ground of his homeland is a string of brutal child murders that reveal the true nature of the Soviet Union and his own past.

Working In Its Favor: The first thing that caught my attention when this movie went into production was the cast. With the talents of Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, and Vincent Cassel all assembled, there’s no way this film won’t be filled with standout performances. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised by the film’s unfortunate release date, right at the onset of blockbuster season. I would have pegged the film for a fall, awards season release.

Based on the trailer, Child 44 written by Richard Price (one of the writers who worked on HBO’s The Wire) looks to be a faithful adaptation of Smith’s book. I don’t know how involved Smith was with the film’s production, but given the book’s worldwide popularity and award nominations it seems like a smart move to stick close to the source material’s character arcs and narrative twists. If you haven’t read the novel but you’re a fan of mysteries and thrillers, Child 44 offers something different than standard procedural casework. While many mysteries rely on cooperation of government organizations and the protagonist, Child 44 breaks that bond, crafting a narrative that relies on alienation both in terms of plot and theme. Carefully plotted, historical, insightful, and filled with honest character transformations, Tom Rob Smith’s novel is definitely deserving of a film adaptation. And if that doesn’t convince you, let the fact that I just started the sequel, The Secret Speech, stand as a testament to how gripping Leo Domidov’s story is.

Potential Issues: It’s difficult for me to imagine that a movie with this level of talent would be a critical disappointment. But the marketing and online buzz for the film has been glaringly weak, especially for a film produced by Ridley Scott. I’ve yet to see a poster or trailer in any theatre. I’m not certain whether Distribution Company Lionsgate doesn’t find the $50 million film worth its marketing money, but it does seem like a worrying move given the popularity of the novel. Unless the film proves to be a critical phenomenon, it seems unlikely the film will generate enough box office receipts to result in the cinematic completion of Tom Rob Smith’s Leo Domidov trilogy. Of course marketing decisions and pre-release buzz don’t dictate a movie’s quality, but they are factors worth considering.

Wild Card: Swedish Director Daniel Espinosa is a bit of an unknown in the states. He directed films in Sweden and Denmark before making his first American film, Safe House, in 2012. While the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds action-thriller didn’t light the world on fire, it received enough positive reviews and box-office interest to get a sequel in development. It seems likely that the fate of the movie rests on Espinosa’s directorial skills, because on paper all the pieces for a great film seem to be there.

Verdict: Will It Make A Good Film?: I think there are only two ways this is going to go down. Either we’ll have a great, underseen film that people will be recommending as a must-see before compiling best of the year lists, or we’ll get a pretty good film that doesn’t hit all the marks and underuses key cast members but still makes for a worthwhile Redbox rental. In either case, you should mark Child 44 down as one to see this year. For Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman alone, it’ll be worth your time.