Movies that take place in the Soviet Union are few and far between. You could cite Enemy at the Gates as one example, but war films show nothing of actual life in the former communist state. Reading about the oppressive world behind the Iron Curtain is one thing; seeing it on film is another. The closest you can get is a documentary on North Korea, however produced and staged it may be. Does Child 44 give us a detailed glimpse into the dissolved socialist regime?
Taking inspiration from the case of notorious serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, 44 is a paranoid suspense thriller set in Stalin era Russia. The squalor of living under an oppressive regime, at the height of its so-called prominence, permeates throughout the runtime. More potent than the look is the constant, tense feeling the main characters are never safe, always watched by people they thought they could trust.
Just to clarify, I know the film is based on a book I have not read. Any changes made upon adaptation are lost on me.
The story follows Leo, played by Tom Hardy, a war veteran and officer in the MGB investigating the murder of a child. After finding out it and several other murders are being covered up by propaganda, Leo risks his life and career to bring the killer to justice.
44 is less about catching a mass murderer and more about catching a mass murderer, in a world where the idea of murder is considered subversive. The conceit of the film is murder cannot occur in a communist state, thus the child victims of the story are dead as a result of “accidents”. If one were to talk about it in the context of anything but, whether it an official or normal citizen, that person is silenced.
Most of the drama and tension comes from Leo and his wife Raisa, played Noomi Rapace, trying to overcome the intrusiveness of a totalitarian society. They lose everything because of falsehoods and knowing information that would help more than harm. It is a perfect example of how a government’s delusion that its culture is perfect can ultimately destroy itself, using tactics that perpetuate incident instead of help. This makes the film frustrating to watch because you know every character knows the truth, but it is those in control that decide the fate of the people you root for.
Sadly, it reminds me of The Longest Ride and how the problems of its characters could have been solved with a simple phone call.
Hardy brings his all to the role of Leo. He plays the character with as much grump and battle-worn grizzle as sympathetic empathy. He comes off as a tired vet that would like nothing more than to retire, but has experienced enough to overlook the strict, oppressive dogma of his job, and engage most situations with modest open-mindedness.
One of the first scenes was a perfect example of his contrasting beliefs. After holding up a family for harboring a fugitive and catching said fugitive, Vasili, played by Joel Kinnaman, executes the husband and wife, leaving two daughters behind. Leo nearly kills Vasili in response, referring to the children that are now orphans, not unlike his upbringing. This moment created an incentive to sympathize with Hardy’s character, a cog in the totalitarian system that got the husband and wife killed.
On that note, Kinnaman made a great turn in the power hungry, sociopathic villain role. One could argue his somewhat stilted performance was less than admirable, but it can be forgiven considering the character. Vasili is so obsessed with overcoming this image of cowardice, he falsifies official documents to get Leo in trouble, and claim his position.
The main fault of the film comes in the form of Rapace. While her character is a very good female role, not much is explained about who she is. We know she has a one-sided estranged relationship with Leo and she is a schoolteacher, but we have not any more information about her past or what she is like on a deeper level.
The same applies to Gary Oldman’s Mikhail. We are given superficial details and nothing more. The man gets top billing along side Hardy and Rapace and is present for barely a quarter of the film.
Child 44 is a nice film to send off the season before summer. Of course there is one week left, but it is well worth your attention. It does more than the typical suspense thriller by taking place in a world not seen often in movies, with a hefty dose of political drama. Skip Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and see Child 44 instead. Then again, why are you even thinking about seeing that trash?