Child 44, the so-called thriller starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and Gary Oldman, is a spectacular mess (and it’s tanking). Like Serena earlier this year, it features a lot of talent and yet the result is completely lacking. It didn’t get much of a promotional push and it didn’t screen for critics in most markets—never a good sign—and then it had its release cut down to 850 theaters, just enough to count as “wide” but not enough to really impact the market. So the writing was on the wall, but with a cast like that and being adapted from strong source material (Tom Rob Smith’s best-selling novel), it was hard to believe, before viewing, that it could really be THAT bad.
But it is. Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), Child 44 flounders for numerous reasons, not least of which is a lack of a clear narrative. Lainey was worried about the Russian accents—that’s the least of the movie’s problems. The accents are actually pretty okay—except for the fact that Russian/Eastern European accents sound inherently silly to us thanks to Boris & Natasha—and the acting in general is good throughout the movie. Hardy is as intense and believable as he always is, and Rapace and Oldman turn in reliably strong performances. Joel Kinnaman, who starred in Espinosa’s breakout Danish film, Easy Money, also stands out. No one is getting black marks for their work in this movie.
But it’s not good, despite the solid ensemble. The script is overstuffed with subplots, and the editing, done by Pietro Scalia and Dylan Tichenor, is all over the place. Scalia is a reliable collaborator with Ridley Scott, and Tichenor is responsible for editing movies like The Town and Zero Dark Thirty—what the HELL went wrong with two talented editors in the room? Was it a clash between their respective styles that the director couldn’t navigate, or was the movie such a mess that not even two good editors could salvage it? I’m tempted to go with Option B because problems stem from multiple directions, not just the editing. It’s a train wreck, and it’s baffling—there’s so much going wrong all at once.
Set in 1953 Soviet Russia, just before Stalin’s death, Child 44 is a bleak look at life under Stalin’s regime. Hardy stars as Leo, a Ukrainian orphan who rises through the Communist party’s ranks during and just after World War II, but who stalls out when his wife, Raisa (Rapace), is found to be an informant. Banished to a miserable provincial burg, Leo begins investigating a serial killer preying on young boys. The catch is that the Soviet government won’t acknowledge murder as a crime, instead attributing the deaths to a string of accidents and mishaps, because “murder is strictly a capitalist disease”, putting him further at odds with the regime that made him a successful man. It’s not a bad set-up, if the movie stayed focused on it.
Awkwardly balanced between being a character-driven ensemble piece and a psychological thriller, Child 44 never settles on a clear tone. I think Espinosa wanted to make a Soviet-era Zodiac, but Zodiac is a f*cking masterpiece because David Fincher controls every square inch of that film. Zodiac works because it’s not really about the murder mystery, it’s about the destructive force of obsession—it just so happens that the characters are obsessed with a murderer. Fincher loops all the disparate parts of Zodiac back to that central theme of obsession and destruction, but Child 44 never feels in Espinosa’s control. The pacing is terrible—no surprise given the butchered editing—and though the acting is not bad, it feels like everyone is in a different movie. There’s no cohesion, no driving central theme tying it all together. An inferior effort, Child 44 is another nail in the coffin of mid-budget, adult-driven drama at the theater.
Attached – Hardy leaves his hotel in London on Friday after the Child 44 premiere.