A politically-charged mystery drama that depicts detention without trial and harsh punishments against truths during Soviet era in Russia
(Warning: This review may contain spoilers)
Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Easy Money) and a screenplay by Richard Price (Shaft, Ransom) based on the 2008 novel of the same name, Child 44 is set in 1953 Soviet Russia where the authorities do whatever it takes to cover up crimes to maintain their ruler Joseph Stalin's idea that "there is no murder in Paradise". The occurrence of a series of child murders have troubled the conscience of Ministry of State Security (MGB) agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) and triggered him to begin his own secret investigation, which is deemed illegal and harshly punishable.
Although it is set in Soviet Russia, the film is entirely in English and none of the main actors are Russian. To make the setting more believable, the actors perform their roles in a fake Russian accent. Tom Hardy (The Drop, Locke), despite the unnatural accent, gives yet another great non-Oscar worthy performance, this time playing an intimidating and yet compassionate Soviet police. His character is disgraced and loses his power and home after he refuses to denounce his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) as a traitor, which makes his attempt to investigate and prove the child murders far more challenging than it already is. Noomi Rapace (The Drop, Prometheus), who recently worked with Hardy, is also excellent in her portrayal of a strong, intelligent wife who's afraid of her own husband and does what she needs to survive in this totalitarian state.
While Leo struggles with his own situation to investigate on the murders, the serial killer continues to murder young innocent children. Joel Kinnaman (Run All Night, RoboCop 2014) plays the cliched rival colleague character, Vasili Nikitin, who takes the opportunity to start a campaign against Leo and continuously forces things to be more dangerously difficult. Leo does, however, get help from Raisa and General Timur Nesterov, played by Gary Oldman (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Dark Knight trilogy) who doesn't get much screen time and is perhaps the worst among all Russian accent attempt. Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Zero Dark Thirty), too, plays a very small role as Anatoly Brodsky who is accused to be a traitor and tortured to give up other traitors, which is how Leo's wife gets accused. Despite the ridiculous accents and the rather TV drama-like script, it is fair to say that this star-studded cast performed their respective roles faultlessly.
With the dark and gritty portrayal and cinematography of this intriguing premise, the film succeeds in depicting just how terrifying and oppressive it was in such an autocratic governance where there is no real freedom and any individual suggestion or opinion that's not in line with the Soviet Union will result in detentions without trial (this may sound familiar to fellow Malaysians today) and harsh punishments like torture and death. It reminds me of the novel and film 1984 but the Soviet era is not fiction, and the similar totalitarianism still exists today, even in countries that are "democratic" on paper. It is somewhat relatable and definitely engaging, even though the actual plot of solving the child murder mystery falls very, very short. But I would like to think of the child murder as only one example to depict how it was like in Soviet Russia back then where truths, opinions and justice could be extremely oppressed just to please the ruler.
Although Child 44 has its downsides and cliches, the majority of the early western reviews on this film have been too harsh. It may not have the thrills and suspense that most detective mystery thrillers usually provide, and it probably shouldn't done better encompassing so much from the book, but the film is quite a rare experience that offers elements of the genre in the challenging conditions during Soviet era, which effectively conveys that power, and detention and punishment without trial, can be abused against those who speak their minds or the truth.
Malaysia censorship: With the local distributor postponing the release and informing that the press screening was uncensored, I think the public release might be end up censored. There are some mild violence, torture and one brief no-nudity sex scene that aren't really that graphic compared to some of the films that were released here uncut.
Second opinion: My girlfriend thought that the film was "engaging and interesting", and that she liked the portrayal of toughness and survival of the female character Raisa.
Verdict: Weak as a mystery thriller but necessarily heavy on the drama in this harsh autocratic ruling, with yet another strong performance by Tom Hardy.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Based on: Tom Rob Smith's 2008 novel "Child 44"
Genre: Thriller drama
Running Time: 140 minutes
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenwriter: Richard Price
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel
Malaysia Release Date: 17 April 2015
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Summit Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, Stillking Films
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