Cert: 15 / 137 mins / Dir. Daniel Espinosa / Trailer
Now, I haven't seen Child, Child 2, Child 3, Child 4, Child 5… [ I should point out at this juncture that as a dyed-in-the-wool devotee of Lee & Herring, I will never tire of this joke. Never, I tell you.] … Child 42 or Child 43, so I had a fair bit of catching up to do in the first ten minutes. Luckily, the film makes little-to-no mention of previous installments, so this should be ideal for newbies to the franchise.
Stalinist Russia, 1953, and a series of child-deaths determined by the authorities to be 'accidents' bear all the hallmarks of a serial killer. MGB agent Leo Demidov is determined to unravel the case, but finds his progress hindered by his superiors, colleagues and even those he thought of as friends. Because how do you track down a killer when "there can be no murder in Paradise"..?
The film's setting is its unique selling point, but it the darkness of the era and that of the story never seem to gel the way you know they should. Not especially cinematic in either tone or form, Child 44 feels like a solid four-hour TV drama which has been compacted for a single big-screen outing, often at the expense of the narrative-flow. The film does a fantastic job of following the 'show, don't tell' ethos, resulting in some solid character building for Hardy's Leo, but things still feel rushed, even at two-and-a-quarter-hours. Noomi Rapace and Tom Hardy are reliable as always, but are crying out for stronger scripting and more focussed direction. In fact, it feels like Paddy Considine is the only member of the cast really grabbing the dramatic bull by its horns, and he outshines everyone with the momentum he brings to the film.
A major stumbling block (for me, at least) is that stretches of dialogue feel casual to the point of being improvised (and if they're not improvised, that's even more of a problem). This results in 21st century, English speech-patterns inserted into a 1950s Russian setting. Not quite as jarring as the way Julian Fellowes writes characters in Downton Abbey saying "…as if", but on the same page, certainly. The assortment of accents are distracting enough*1 without being pulled out of the story by the script itself. The worst offender in this department is Tom Hardy's line: "Obviously we are all guilty by association, irregardless." You can have irrespective, or you can have regardless. But 'irregardless' isn't a real word. How did this make it into the final edit?
A great story let down by dodgy accents, mumbled, off-the-cuff dialogue, atrocious shaky-cam and a rushed approach to storytelling, Child 44 is thoroughly intriguing but fails to live up to its full potential.
Probably a rental; I doubt you'll get more than a couple of watches out of it.
With the best will in the world, no.
Narratively, yes. Dramatically, no.
Well, who makes a film featuring a full-on battle scene in the first ten minutes and doesn't insert a Wilhelm Scream? The guy who hires sound-designer Christopher Assells, that's who…
Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy are both Nolan-era Batman alumni of course, as is Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.
^^ That's a strong four, but a four nonetheless.
*1 Although I'm also aware that Noomi Rapace and Vincent Cassel both speak heavily accented English to begin with, so maybe giving fake Russian accents to the cast puts everyone on the same handicap, so to speak? That said, Child 44 contains another small role for Charle Dance, illustrating that he either can't do All The Accents, or just chooses not to.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.