Adapted from Tom Rob Smith’s novel of the same name, Child 44 depicts the life of a high profile Soviet security officer, Agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), as he risks all he knows, or thought he knew, to uncover the truth behind a series of child murders. The trouble is, that “There is no murder in paradise”, and in the ideal communist state, accusations on the contrary are deadly.
Having had its theatrical release cancelled, Russia’s immediate cinematic ban of Child 44 elevates the film, arousing suspicion and curiosity as to its context. However, if you’re looking for a historically accurate, objective depiction of 1953 Russia, this film is not it.
Oliver Wood’s cinematography converts the filming location, the Czech Republic, into a gritty, dystopian Soviet Russia. It is only the red of the Soviet uniforms and the mass of Raisa Demidov’s (Noomi Rapace) blonde hair, Leo’s wife and the light of his life, that appear to be the brightest colours on screen. Yet as is customary with the dystopian literary genre, no stone is left unturned; this adaptation of Child 44 is paved with such ironies and metaphors that even the colour grading eventually sullies the Soviet system and Leo’s world.
Director Daniel Espinosa skilfully incorporates foreshadowing of various key themes including truth vs. façade, public duty vs. personal responsibility and the potential of children. A brief scene, for example, involves Leo Demidov being selected to pose victoriously with the Soviet flag for a photograph as opposed to his comrade (because his comrade was wearing stolen watches) – an indication of the Soviet’s denial of criminal activity and how it is hidden from the public. Yet later on in the film, the photo and the stolen watches are brought up in conversation as a rumour to Demidov, which he neither denies nor admits to, demonstrating that the truth has a way of surfacing, but even so, it may not be acknowledged.
The layers of significance and visual composition of Child 44 make it a film with the potential to be fantastic, yet unfortunately the pace works against the film’s favour. Drawn-out scenes jarringly juxtapose against those which seem to end too early. Most of this is offset by the action sequences, which at times are so intense that you may find yourself on the edge of your seat covering your wide, in-awe mouth with cupped hands. Thus, this fluctuating tempo leaves the film as a whole feeling rather uncertain, both in terms of itself, and one’s engagement with it.
In spite of the occasional slip of the Russian accent, (or in Charles Dance’s case, complete non-existence), performances by the cast, particularly Rapace and Joel Kinnaman, are notable. From his brilliant depiction of the protagonist, Tom Hardy – undoubtedly the prime selling point for this hard-hitting, historic thriller in the early season of summer blockbusters – carries the weight of the film. As stellar as Hardy’s performance is, the ending is far too convenient and unrealistic, spoiling one’s appreciation of the performances to an extent, and undermining the gritty realism established throughout the film.
If you’re looking for a historically accurate, objective depiction of 1953 Russia, this film is not it.
Child 44 depicts a thrilling story which challenges the concept of whether or not the truth can in fact set one’s self free; however, akin to the Stalinist regime depicted in the film, Child 44 is convincing, but only to a certain degree. Its shortcomings, nonetheless, are far from disastrous and, at the risk of channelling the film’s depiction of the pro-Stalinist stance, the flaws may be acknowledged but can be overlooked.