There are a handful of times throughout history that I just would never want to be a part of, and Stalinist Russia could very easily be in the top 10. It was a time where no one was safe, no matter what age, sex, or creed, and everything that you said or did could potentially be used against you. These ideas are explored to great length in the film Child 44, a 205 film based off of a novel by Tom Rob Smith. I was initially intrigued by this movie after looking at the premise and the fact that it starred Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, and Noomi Rapace. To make things more interesting, I had to see how such a star studded historical drama could be such a major box office flop.
After raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) quickly became a hero and symbol of his country. Jump to 1953 and Demidov has found himself a beautiful wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), and has the position of Captain in the Russian intelligence agency, the MGB. After a child is found murdered by the train tracks, the government tries to cover it up and deny that there is a child murderer walking the streets. As Demidov continues his investigation, he and his wife are exiled to a small town where Leo is stripped of his rank and finds a low level job under General Neserov (Gary Oldman). After a lot of effort and more murdered children are discovered, Demidov convinces Nesterov that this is a serious problem, which leads to them both continuing the investigation behind the government’s back, a mission that could easily put them in front of a firing squad.
Something that Child 44 does better than anything else is create a sort of realism that really had to happen if they were going to create a movie that takes place in the early 1950s in the Soviet Union. The costume and set design made it feel like I was taking a glimpse at history. The black trains with the red star were so ominous and powerful looking and very memorable to look at. Of course all of this realism would be for nothing if the performances weren’t grounded in this sense of reality. Hardy, Rapace, and Oldman all give great performances and are reason enough to see this movie. One scene in particular involved a fight on a train, which was bone crunchingly real that it really stands out.
I love murder mysteries of every shape and size. There’s a sense of danger and time that weave their way through the best mysteries. The hero is always racing against time to find the killer before anyone else gets hurt, which makes for some very exciting storytelling. A murder mystery that takes place in the middle of Stalin’s reign of terror just adds a whole new variable to the equation which makes for some even more intensity and suspense. Like I said before, no one was safe in this period of time and you had to be careful with whatever you said and whoever you talked to. Child 44 creates this overwhelming sense of paranoia with all of the twists and reveals. I’ve never quite seen a mystery like this before and that is definitely a compliment.
So far, everything I’ve said about this movie is pretty good. It would seem that I have no problem with it. This, however, is simply not the case. I felt like I was tripping over the pacing of this movie, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said before… Interesting. Anyway, the layout of this movie is really, really weird. The first 45 minutes to an hour is just set up, then after that the movie picks up a lot of speed only to be jolted to a halt and then go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. It made for some awkward moments. The first cut of this movie was over 5 hours long, which makes a lot of sense because there is an absurd amount crammed into this movie which clocks in at a little under two and a half hours. This is one of those instances where this should’ve been a mini series.
The most important part of film is being able to coherently tell a story in the best possible way, and this is where Child 44 really slips and falls on its sickle. The story, itself, is very intriguing and full of paranoia and great performances. It’s also a beautifully shot film that prides itself on the realism that it creates. Unfortunately, the pacing and amount of information jammed into its run time makes it sort of an awkward viewing experience. This movie receives a lot of unwarranted negativity. I actually quite enjoyed this movie and would recommend it, but just be sure you’re ready for pacing from hell.