Based on the book by Tom Rob Smith, Child 44 sees a Russian police agent and his wife take on the investigation of a crime which could unravel the very foundations their society is based upon. Set in the Stalinist era, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) begin to doubts his position and his agency when the circumstances surrounding his colleague’s son, which is reported as ‘a tragic accident’, suggest that murder was involved. As ‘there can be no crime in paradise’, Leo is forced to let the report lie and to ignore the pleas of the boy’s grief-stricken family to investigate the case further. Soon after, Leo is forced to denounce his wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace). He refuses and is sent with her to a derelict provincial outpost, stripped of his home and position in Moscow, as well as his status and wealth. At the outpost in Kiev, Leo discovers that more suspicious deaths of young boys have occurred, which may be related to the death of his friend’s son. He enlists the help of General Nesterov (Gary Oldman ) to find out more.”
The unrelenting paranoia and fear, and ceaseless destruction of the Reign of Terror are captured well by director Daniel Espinosa, whose previous films include Easy Money (the highest grossing movie in Swedish history) and Safe House. The Swedish director was handed the film by Ridley Scott, who was initially signed on as director but decided to produce instead. The distinctive style of Oliver Wood, who was also the cinematographer of the Bourne trilogy, is also clearly present here. Wood moves seamlessly from heart-breaking emotion to fast-paced action, his style acutely capturing the intrigue and mystery of the plot, each shot composed with Hollywood-style professionalism.
Indeed the film may deservedly receive an amount of criticism on the basis of its Hollywood-style rendition of the setting of Stalinist Russia. There is a sense that authenticity is lost with the lead actors being from England, France, Australia, Sweden, Lebanon… seemingly anywhere other than Russia. Fortunately, this is forgivable given the strong performances from Hardy, Oldman, Rapace and a distinctive suporting line-up (Joel Kinnaman, Vincent Cassel, Jason Clarke, Paddy Considine). One gets used to the use of the English language in an adapted Russian accent as the means of communication between the characters of the film, but it is frustrating when secondary cast members speak their lines with an English accent. This lack of consistency draws attention to the film as façade and suggests a lack of attention to detail that does not do the film any favours. Another downside is that the story is wrapped a little too suddenly and conveniently in its final showdown.
Gary Oldman delivers, as to be expected, but it is Hardy’s performance as the conflicted Demidov that stands out. At one moment terrifying, and in the next in mental turmoil, Hardy brings an undeniable sense of determination to his character, carrying the audience through the ups and downs of his character’s pursuit for justice, his steeliness inspiring the characters around him to do the same. His onscreen chemistry with Rapace’s Raisa is also appropriately fraught and tender, perhaps owing partly to the pair’s previous casting in The Drop, released last year. Having already shone in so many roles, this may just be the best performance of Hardy’s career yet.