‘Child 44:’ Movie Review

April 29, 2015 1 Comment

I’ve always been a fan of World World II films, the most recent (and one of my favorites) being The Imitation Game (2014). However, I can actually say that I am not a big fan of this movie. Then again, the setting doesn’t actually takes place in World War II, so I guess its okay.

Child 44 attempts to pass itself off as a classical film noir slasher film, but it doesn’t seem to understand how to properly execute such a concept. Interestingly enough, Hollywood has shifted away from such films where totalitarianism is gloried, such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent series. So I really can’t imagine anyone being too interested in a film such as this. Unless they are really into history.

The film briefly details the events of the Holodomor. This was the systematic starvation (famine) of millions of people within Ukraine (formally known as Ukraine SSR), which killed more than 7 million people and left nearly 1 million children orphaned. An interesting fact for anyone interested in Soviet history, but what does this have to do with the plot? Very little, considering 99% of the film takes place in near the end of Stalin-Era Russia, in 1953.

Although, this might have some relation all the same, if anyone is familiar with Soviet-Style propaganda. The quote, “There is no Murder in Paradise” is seen within the first couple of minutes of the film. All the more reason why Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is puzzled when he finds a disfigured and naked young boy close by the railroad tracks.

Being forced to break the news to the family, he reads a detailed report which list the cause of death as “an accident.” “A train doesn’t undress a boy,” the mother wails and demands that her son’s killer be brought to justice. Such an after thought is considered treasonous in the Soviet Union, the idea of murder conflicts with the ideals of murder being “a capitalist diseases (along with unemployment).” Although, Stalin might be right if this was considered an isolated incident; however, there are a string of bodies piling up. All of them young children.

Although, I might have been wrong when I said that the Holodomor has little to do with the actual story. As it turns out, Leo is a Holodomor survivor (Leo is actually a name he adopted help shield the bad memories of the genocide). Leo was an orphan and also had a difficult upbringing, so naturally he emphasis with these young children, and he also finds it difficult to ignore the obvious string of murder’s in Stalin’s paradise. Although, this is just another challenge along with the other assignment he is given: investigate his own wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapaca), of potential espionage and denounce her for treason. He refuses.

As punishment, he is demoted and relocated with his wife Raisa to a remote location, where he meets General Mikhail Nesterov, played by Gary Oldman. General Nesterov believes Leo was transferred to his location to investigate him, and doesn’t believe children are of significant importance to Moscow. He even goes as far as to deny these murders are occurring (as everyone is forced to). However, with the body count climbing, these murders become too large to ignore. Now Nesterov, Leo and Raisa are investigating who is behind the 44 child murders with outside help from any central government agency.
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The only problem with this plot is that its not presented in an interesting way, and there is far too much external conflict between majority of the characters for the audience to really care about goal involving the main characters. If the objective isn’t drowned out with Leo’s backstory, it’s pushed aside for conflict that involves either his wife, colleagues or something else entirely unrelated.

What makes matters worse, this plot is actually based on real events. The character was based on real-life Russian series killed by the name of Andrei Chikatilo, who was responsible for the deaths of much more than 44 children. He also committed these crimes in around the 1970s, not the early 50s. I don’t understand why the audience couldn’t have gotten a story that was closer to reality, except with the opportunity to tie a real life event to the political climate of what was occurring near the rise of the Soviet Union as a global superpower.

The screenplay is often confusing and will probably fail to keep your attention long enough to understand what is going on. But that is probably the least of your concerns when watching this. The problem is that the screenplay lacks structure. One moment, we have a scene of Leo during his childhood as a Holodomor survivor. Then the next scene we have him during his time in Berlin in serving in World War II, for really no rhyme or reason.

Even the ending seemed a bit contrived, as the screenwriters attempted to force a ‘happily ever after’ moment, as Leo and Raisa attempt to adopt two orphan girls. Mainly through pure sympathy (as Leo was an orphan boy during his youth), but also as a form of redemption. Very early in the film, Leo lead a team of SS officers, one of whom blatantly executed the parents of the orphan girls. I might have spoiled the ending, but the film is so long and this scene is so minuscule, you probably won’t even notice (or bring yourself to care very much).

Final Verdict: D

This is probably Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy’s fourth movie together, which includes hits such as The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). If you’re expecting this film to be a classic like those, then you’re going to be in for a big disappointment (like I was). The film could have played better if the events were actually based off of the serial murders of Andrei Chikatilo, but I’m not really sure what the director (Daniel Espinosa) was thinking.

I didn’t really take the time to discuss any of the acting that took place, because I didn’t really think there was anything spectacular or terrible about it. The only problem viewers would probably have is Tom Hardy’s best attempt at a Russian accent (Gary Oldman also put one his Russian accent). Whether or not you believe these accents or good is your opinion, but I supposed that is the price screenwriters pay for creating a film based in a setting where obviously no one should be speaking English.

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