"There is no crime in paradise."
It’s hard not to get excited over a movie like Child 44. Tom Hardy is possibly busier now than he’s ever been, with Locke and the Drop already out to critical praise as well as Mad Max and Legend still to come. It’s also based on a bestselling novel and is supported by Gary Oldman as well as being produced by the one and only Sir Ridley Scott. So can I expect great things, or am I about to be disappointed.
An officer of the secret soviet police (Hardy) is stripped of his power, position and authority when he refuses to denounce wife as a traitor. Exiled to an isolated provincial outpost where he discovers a dark secret. Determined to uncover the truth concerning the murders of several young boys he faces the realisation that he must also overcome a conspiracy of frightening proportions.
Rather than being an intricate and thrilling murder mystery with Hardy and Oldman teaming up to solve it, we get a rather sluggish and overly large in scale production. Several of the more interesting elements are reduced to side-plots such as the serial killer storyline and instead we focus on the moral dilemma of Hardy’s character, normally that wouldn’t be a massive issue but the paceis really slowed down to a minimum and that does not suit something with as many locations as Child 44 does. As well as that the film has the feel of being half and half over the story it wants to tell, does it want to be a character study or a murder case. The end result is a rather uneven plot and it fails to be just one of those attempts.
I can say straight away however that the performances are all spot on. Though it may be odd at first to hear that thick Russian accent rolling around in Hardy’s throat and spilling from his lips as the film progresses it steadily grows in composure and I could really appreciate the delicate character he was trying to portray here. The moral decisions he faces are certainly intriguing, but when executed in such a boring way then it’s hard for even bane himself to grab our attention for 137 minutes, which incidentally, is far too long for this film anyway.
There’s a rich cinematography to it as well but not enough of that exquisite atmosphere to be displayed in the environments that director Daniel Espinosa supplies. There’s also little imagination or innovation to anything on display. Hardy talks with some people, makes discoveries, talks again, stresses about something, walks about in the snow. After an hour it starts to feel repetitive, and following another one it acts as a tranquilizer.
Though the era of post war Russia is captured aesthetically, in terms of emotion and development there’s little on offer. Rather than attempting to reflect the paranoia of living in such a heavily policed state through the tale of hunting down a serial killer, they just choose to set the murder scenario in a fairly generic manner, the oly difference being that its participants are all wearing Soviet uniforms. It’s also overly grim, throwing in brutality and darkness when it isn’t necessary, it might be had they set up a paranoid and oppressive atmosphere, but as I said instead we just witness a stylish mystery play out.
The overly complicated plot only makes the ending even worse, a rather anticlimactic affair that ends in more of a whimper than a bang of any kind. It’s almost ludicrous that a plot that drags on and spends so much time as if it is building towards something can end in such an unsatisfactory manner.
Though Tom Hardy gives it his all, ironically picking up his pace in the second half as the rest of the film slows down, and it may be pleasing to look at and interesting at its core. But everything used to fill the gaps of Child 44 feels pretentious, predictable and agonisingly slow.