Tom Hardy’s tenacious secret policeman hunts for a child murderer amid the paranoia and terror of Stalin’s Soviet Union in this adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling novel, Child 44 (opens in new tab).
Get past some contrived plotting - and the needlessly thick Russian accents adopted by the mostly British cast - and this 1950s-set crime thriller is grimly fascinating.
Hardy’s dogged MGB officer, Leo Demidov, first realises a killer is at large after the son of one of his colleagues is found dead in Moscow. Yet what makes his investigation so challenging – and so perilous for him and his wife (The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo (opens in new tab)’s Noomi Rapace) – is that he is an agent of a state that denies the very existence of murder, a supposedly ‘capitalist disease’.
As the Soviet slogan has it, ‘There can be no murder in paradise’. Merely to question this dogma is to risk execution as an enemy of the state. And Demidov has a cowardly and conniving MGB colleague, Joel Kinnaman’s weaselly Vasili Nikitin, only too eager to point the finger of suspicion in his direction. By the skin of their teeth, Demidov and his wife (whom he has refused to denounce as a traitor) wind up exiled to a remote town rather than dead.
But Demidov doesn’t abandon his hunt for the serial killer he believes is preying on young boys, and after he comes upon further evidence tries to enlist the help of his superior, Gary Oldman’s conscientious General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman), to track him down.
Viewed as a police procedural, Child 44 is undeniably sluggish; yet as a portrait of a society warped by fear and ideology, Safe House (opens in new tab) director Daniel Espinosa's film is genuinely compelling. The acting is solid, too, despite the accents, with Hardy in excellently dour form.
Certificate 15. Runtime 131 mins. Director Daniel Espinosa.
Child 44 is released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday 24th August by Entertainment One.
A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
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