Child 44 has an ensemble cast, detailed period costumes, expertly picked locations, and deft cinematography. It’s a believable world of tension and control during the post-war industrial Soviet Union filled with characters oppressed by government-mandated conformity.
Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace – as well as the rest cast – do their best to make things work. Unfortunately, the movie’s failed attempt to become a period epic results in a convoluted and badly executed plot.
Child 44 is really about child murders (hence the title) but it’s overcrowded by subplots – a character story, domestic woes, and totalitarian tropes. The movie doesn’t have time to develop any of them so it relies on exposition-heavy dialogue and contrivances to compress its multiple narrative strands.
Leo falls from grace after he fails to denounce his wife. After getting ditched to a provincial outpost the couple now feels the brunt of oppression with the loss of their already limited privilege.
Caricature villains come out of the woodwork, marriage troubles continue and more systematic oppression ruins everyone’s life. Meanwhile, in the background, kids keep getting murdered. As Leo resolves to finally finish the investigation, we discover that his new outpost is holding piles of evidence. The climax is an anticlimactic reveal coupled with an equally anticlimactic brawl.
The movie ends with a neatly wrapped up redemption of our hero. Charles Dance, who’s now the designated character of authority just like Morgan Freeman is the designated narrator of everything, makes an appearance.
Would a more focused story about child 44 be less epic than the source material intended? perhaps. Would it provide an opportunity to craft a compelling story with relatable characters? More likely. Sadly, Child 44 trades this opportunity for misguided ambitions.
Child 44 is a flat dreary messy drama because of a scattershot script that wastes its talented cast.