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Based on the first of a trilogy by Tom Rob Smith and set in the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. The plot is about an idealistic pro-Stalin security officer who decides to investigate a series of child murders in a country where supposedly this sort of crime doesn't exist. The state would not hear of the existence of a child murderer let alone a serial killer. He gets demoted and exiled but decides, with just the help of his wife, to continue pursuing the case.Written by
There is greatness here, muddled by inconsistency and superfluous subplots.
This is a movie I've kept my eye on ever since it was revealed. Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman are two of my favorite working actors, and having them co-lead a Russian serial killer film seemed like a slam dunk. Unfortunately, Child 44 is not the slam dunk it could have been. It has the talent, it has the story (based on the best-selling novel); all the ingredients necessary for greatness are there. But it also has a plethora of baggage that bogs it down to mediocrity.
Tom Hardy is the star of the film through and through. It's a story about his family life and professional life clashing over the case of a dead child. The officials want to pass it off as a train accident, but witnesses swear that it was a homicide. As more and more bodies start turning up and the higher-ups continue to look away, it's up to Hardy to find the killer and bring him to justice. Again, the acting in this film is great, as is the story. The problem is the way it's presented. Half of the movie is focused on the serial killer angle and Hardy's character going through the loops of finding the right person to help him on the case, and the other half is about Soviet officials exiling his family and stripping him of power for his disobedience. The way these stories intertwine is messy and confusing, for a number of reasons.
For starters, the tone is all over the place. What should be a dark, gloomy mystery among the cold streets of Soviet Russia ends up as a haphazardly arranged domestic dispute due to political interference with a child murderer lurking around somewhere. There's no time for momentum to build when it's constantly changing course. Gary Oldman being billed a co-lead is a huge stretch. He's in the movie for about 20 minutes total and his character doesn't do much to further the story. Mind you, it's Gary Oldman so he gives a fine performance, but as someone who was looking forward to Hardy and Oldman sharing the scene for two plus hours, I was disappointed to say the least.
And then there's the practical aspect. Hardy and Oldman are accent chameleons, there's no doubt about that. I didn't even know Oldman was British until I saw him in an interview. But why on earth are these Russian soldiers speaking to each other in English? For a wider audience no doubt, but it's such a basic matter of common sense that it bugged me continuously throughout the film. It's also far too long. A serial killer hunt stretched over the course of two hours and 15 minutes is exhausting. The tension becomes less and less dire as the movie progresses until you're just waiting for it to end.
Child 44 isn't a bad movie, but its flaws are glaring. It's not the dark, edgy thriller you'd expect. In fact, to call it a thriller would be a misnomer. Child 44 is a tone-deaf political drama filled to the brim with wasted potential.
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