Overview: A disgraced and exiled MGB agent lays his life and career on the line in order to solve a series of brutal child murders. Lionsgate, 2015, rated R, 137 minutes.
Spine to Screen Stumble: Child 44 is an adaptation of the award-winning first installment of a trilogy of thriller detective novels set in Stalin’s Soviet Union, featuring the character of Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy). I haven’t read the source material, but I trust Richard Newby’s assessment that Tom Rob Smith’s novel is something special. When a procedural story is adapted, particularly one dealing with such heavy political elements and layered plots as this one, the adaptation runs the risk of losing some of the punching power that can be packed into the pages of a book, where the time and attention can be given to every character and narrative arc and subplot.
Child 44 suffers in its translation from text to screen, as Director Daniel Espinosa seems to cram too much from the novel, losing connection with the audience along the way. Not enough exploration is made into the Soviet Union, as would seem required in the construction of a fleshed out political thriller, and yet it doesn’t dive deeply enough into the child murder investigations to warrant its mystery and suspense label either. Invasive camera shots aren’t enough to maintain intimacy, and gruesome, unflinching violence fails to evoke the shock and discomfort it should deserve, all because the film never spends enough time singularly exploring any of the infinite threads it attempts to stitch together.
Dynamic Duo: Child 44′s cast is loaded with heavy-hitters like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, all of whom turn in solid performances, but it’s the repeat pairing of Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace that dominates this film. Hardy and Rapace’s dynamic seems to pick up right where it left off from 2014’s The Drop, Hardy’s intimidating adoration hovering over Rapace’s fearful instinct to fulfill an obligation to him. The best part of Child 44 is watching these two actors provide depth and growth to the characters of Leo and Raisa Demidov. Noomi Rapace gives a raw, evocative performance as a woman who evolves from a scared, dutiful wife into a loyal, brave fighter. She bites and claws her way through those who get in the way of her husband’s search for justice, discovering her own strength along the way. Unsurprisingly, Tom Hardy’s presence is unrivaled here as Leo Dominov, an orphan with a troubled past who wrestles with his duty and his conscience. Hardy is a tour de force in film these days, disappearing within every character with an intensity and conviction that makes his every role worth watching.
Overall: Although the muddled, complicated subplots spin the film in too many directions to make Child 44 a truly successful adaptation of its source material, the allure of its leading performances are enough to make it worth a watch.