Child 44 review by Richard Chester

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A SERIAL killer of children stalks Stalin-era Russia in the thriller, Child 44, which judging by its ensemble cast, including Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman, seems like an entertaining mystery but ends up nothing of the sort.

Based on Tom Rob Smith’s book, the film sees Hardy play Leo Demidov, a military policeman, who is caught between a rock and a hard place when his godson is brutally murdered where, as the opening caption states, ‘‘there is no murder in paradise’’.

Forced to oblige the Russian policy of not investigating the ‘communist’ trait of murder, Demidov is forced to bury it as a tragic accident. Soon after he and his wife Raisa (Rapace) are arrested for her apparent espionage activity, leaving the two disgraced and thus exiled from Moscow to Volsk. There, he is made to work for no-nonsense General Nesterov (Oldman) who takes a quick dislike to him while Raisa goes from teaching in schools to cleaning in schools.

The Jack the Ripper-esque murders persist and eventually reach the area where the couple are now based. Going against protocol, the two set off to identify the killer while attempting to avoid those trying to kill them, including Demidov sadistic former colleague Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman).

With the cast also including Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine and Jason Clarke, this plays as an example of what happens when you put a bunch of talented multi-national actors in the same film only for it to play as a big disappointment.

With the film’s element of mystery as to who is committing these murders, the film does not come across as mysterious enough. With an hour to go, the film gives away the killer’s identity, and as seen before and after the reveal, the rivalry between Demidov and Nikitin gets in the way too often. As it descends into a The Night of the Generals-type piece, unlike that, the characters and plotlines become thinly-written and the real matter of the story is pushed aside to make way for scenarios that do not interest.

Surprisingly, the characters that are not interesting to watch are played by good, strongly talented actors. The Hardy, Rapace and Considine characters do not come across as fascinating to watch in the way expected, although total blame lies with the writers for not giving them better written scenes to help elevate their performances.

Another problem involves the hugely talented Vincent Cassel who deserves far better in his role as Demidov’s pre-transfer superior. He only appears sporadically and though he has a welcome presence whenever he shows up, for an actor this talented, he is not given enough screen time or witty dialogue which could have possibly compensated for the writing.

Oldman, who has earned his place as one of Britain’s finest actors, has a rare scenario of not having the factor of entertainment value that has helped establish his reputation. By previously playing a Russian convincingly in Air Force One, one would think playing another Russian accent would not be difficult. His problem is if you have your eyes closed without knowing he is on screen, you would be forgiven for thinking it was him as his attempt at an accent veers from Russian to his native London accent.

An overlong and uninteresting thriller, Child 44 lets down its talented cast with weak writing and direction that corresponds to a forgettable cinema experience.