World War II has ended, but in Stalinist Russia a reign of terror pervades, as related in Child 44 based on a prize-winning book with the same title by Tom Rob Smith. This should be a better film than it is, with its outstanding cast. Since I haven’t read the book, I don’t know how well the script follows Smith’s book, and maybe Richard Price (screenplay) simply wasn’t up to the job. I also found the editing (Pietro Scalia and Dylan Tichenor) nerve-wracking and choppy. The story does not flow easily, and it’s always several seconds or minutes into a new scene before the viewer can figure out what is going on and who the players are. Cheap shots like showing only the bottom parts of the actors and hearing voices before speakers appear seem to be attempts to heighten the mystery, but this is completely unnecessary; the story is dramatic enough without camera and editing tricks.
We see Leo Demidov (Xavier Atkins in early years; Hardy in later years) weeping about his father’s death, escaping from an orphanage, and ending up in military service, where he becomes a hero. For that, he is appointed to the MGB (later to become the KGB) where he is to round up traitors. He is shown to be more compassionate than most, particularly his fellow officer Vasili (Kinnaman). When Vasili shows himself to be cruelly vengeful and cold-blooded, Leo attacks him publicly, which will have dire consequences for Leo and his wife Raisa (Rapace).
We’re given a picture of the MGB when a suspected traitor (Jason Clarke) is routed out at a farmhouse, and when Leo asks him why he ran from the officers if he was innocent, the reply is, “When you’re followed, you’re arrested; and when you’re arrested, you’re already guilty; so you tell me, why did I run?” We see many people being rounded up at home, at work, or on the street for apparently the flimsiest excuses.
In this context of fear and paranoia, an atmosphere where the illusion of an idyllic state is more important than truth and justice, murder can go undetected, which is especially unfortunate in the case of a serial killer of children, who knowingly exploits this fact and literally gets away with murder(s). Most of the rest of the story deals with this and the outrageous vindictiveness of Vasili who will make Demidov pay dearly for his public reproach. But Leo is conscientious—even though he and Raisa are pursued as traitors—and doggedly pursues the cases of the murdered children.
The whole story of Child 44 is an intriguing one that keeps the viewer keenly involved and invested in the outcome, so it’s a shame that with the fine cast and Ridley Scott as one of the producers, Director Daniel Espinosa was not able to bring about a work of higher quality.
There is no murder in paradise.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland