Giving his best Russian hardman impression, accent maestro Tom Hardy stars as Leo Demidov in Daniel Espinosa’s big screen adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s crime-thriller, Child 44. A child killing maniac is the backdrop for this intriguing examination of 1950s Soviet bureaucracy, that also stars Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman.
A Soviet war hero who’s banished from Moscow for failing to denounce his wife (Rapace) as a traitor, Leo (Hardy) becomes fixated on what he believes to be a child killing mass murderer case that the authorities are purposely overlooking. While trying to avoid the attention of his former “brother” Vasili (Kinnaman), the disgraced militarian – with the help of Gary Oldman’s General Mikhail Nesterov – sets out to find the killer that no one else cares about.
Interesting if not a little unspectacular in its delivery, Child 44 is, beyond Hardy’s brutish scowl, deeper and meaner than it first appears. Espinosa gives us plenty to chew on (society, dictatorship, marriage), even if it doesn’t quite gel together like it should. We get an effective peek at a dangerous and blinded Soviet society run by intimidation and scaremongering, as we’re reminded on two separate occasions that “There can’t be no murders in paradise.” A chilling reference to the authority’s stubborn reluctance to acknowledge that a child killer is operating on Soviet soil. Human imperfection, of course, does not exist in Stalin’s nation…
Hardy’s Leo is a man who himself is struggling to shrug off the unwelcoming characteristics his high-ranking position is associated with. We are given glimpses of his conscious: a guy, whose childhood deeply effected him, that isn’t the heartless thug many – including his wife – think he is. In stark contrast, Kinnaman’s Vasili is everything you’d expect of a Soviet officer: an inflexible, ruthless brute with an axe to grind.
It’s a period piece that doesn’t quite manage to land that one fatal punch needed to fulfil its true potential. A little scrambled in places, Hardy’s performance carries it through moments of murkiness, but Child 44 – a story laced in fear and anxiety – has enough about it to make it an intriguing, thought-provoking and multi-layered watch.