Mark Reviews Movies

Child 44


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Fares Fares, Paddy Considine, Vincent Cassel, Jason Clarke

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality)

Running Time: 2:17

Release Date: 4/17/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 17, 2015

Child 44 doesn't just lose the plot. It loses the point. The movie is set in the Soviet Union circa 1953, and it is the belief of Joseph Stalin—and, hence, anyone who has the misfortune of living under his rule and doesn't want to suffer any further misfortune—that murder is simply not possible in his "paradise." Murder is a "disease of capitalism." No true Soviet citizen would be capable of committing murder, and anyone who does either has some mental "deficiency" or has been "corrupted by the West." Murder as an everyday occurrence in the Soviet Union would be a sign of imperfection, of corruption, and of failure.

This is a fascinating backdrop for what is partially a story about the investigation into a serial killer who has been murdering young boys. The victims' bodies are found along and near railroad tracks in and around Moscow. They have been killed in the same way. All of their bodies show signs of torture and the precise removal of organs. The pattern is obvious and certainly points to a single perpetrator who fits a clear profile. It should be a simple matter of collecting clues, obtaining witness testimony, and tracking down the killer.

It should be, but the twist here is that this is a system in which denial is the first and only reaction of the people who could do those obvious things. It's not denial that the killings are connected or that the killer will strike again or that there is a discernable pattern to these crimes. It's denial that murder has occurred, because, according to this government, such a thing is simply not possible. Any person who might say otherwise would be a traitor to the system, and the last stop for any such individual is a terrace with a red wall full of bullet holes.

The premise, again, is fascinating, because any investigation into this series of crimes is a crime in and of itself. Theoretically, the stakes are high and numerous. The problem is that Richard Price's screenplay (adapted from the novel by Tom Rob Smith) is entirely front-loaded with good ideas. The concept of this story is far, far more intriguing than its execution.

The central character is Leo (Tom Hardy), a Ukrainian whose parents died in a state-mandated famine. As a young man, he fought with the Soviet Army against the Nazis, even raising the red flag of his country atop the Reichstag. He became a national hero, and in 1953, he and his company are tracking down possible traitors.

Then, the son of one of Leo's comrades is killed. The official report states that he was hit by a train. A witness saw the boy with a strange man before he was killed, and the family is convinced the child was murdered. Leo has his doubts, but he tows the government line for now. Plus, his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is named as a traitor by a detained enemy of the state.

It's at this point that the movie loses any clear through line. It follows Leo and Raisa as they're sent to the industrial town of Volsk, where Leo is demoted to the militia under the command of General Nesterov (Gary Oldman).

There's a conspiracy afoot, but who is the man behind it? Is it Vasili (Joel Kinnaman), a coward in the war who has become a cold-hearted killer? Is it Leo's former commander Major Kuzmin (Vincent Cassel), who is not happy that Leo requested an autopsy of the murdered boy's body? Is Alexei (Fares Fares), the father of the boy who resents Leo for ignoring his cries for justice?

Does it matter? It should, but the screenplay poorly juggles the conspiracy plot and serial-murder investigation, which unofficially re-opens when another boy's body is discovered in the forest near the train tracks outside Volsk. The blame is passed around for the bodies, from a man with a mental disability to a gay man who names names (The montage that results is a succinct portrayal of how this system feeds on fear). The key points of how all of this transpires are tossed aside with throwaway pieces of dialogue, and the mystery is thrown away with the introduction of the killer at the end of the second act. As for the conspiracy side of things, it's even less comprehensible, with ill-defined motivations for the perpetrators once it's revealed.

The point here is how basic social principles—in this case, justice—can be quashed within a system that exists solely to serve itself. We get it loud and clear from the start, but Child 44 weaves such a confoundingly distrait narrative that even it seems to ignore the message.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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