Saturday, April 18, 2015

Movie Review #244: "Child 44" (2015)

Movie #244
Movie"Child 44"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Showtime: 7:00 pm
Rating: R
Running Time 2 hours, 17 minutes
Image Source
In the Soviet Union in the 1950's, a string of child murders are written off as accidents since murder is seen as a disease of capitalism and couldn't possibly happen in a communist state. When an MGB officer named Leo (Tom Hardy) digs in to the death of his friend's son, Leo's wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is suddenly accused of being a traitor. When Leo refuses to denounce her, he is disgraced and forced to join the militia in Volsk. When another child's body is discovered there, Leo sees similarities between this death and the death of his friend's son. He convinces militia General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman) to look deeper into the deaths of all the children who died in this manner, and he discovers there are 44 similar murders that have occurred over the past few years. Looking into these murders can be considered an act of treason and starts to draw the attention of the MGB, putting all of their lives in danger.

This film is based on a book, which is a fictionalized murder mystery inspired by the events surrounding serial killer Andrei Chikatilo from the late 1970's through the early 1990's. The movie has managed to create a lot of controversy over its portrayal of Stalin era Communist Russia, so much so that there are reports this film was even banned in Russian theaters. We cannot confirm nor deny this since we don't live in Russia. If you look at another country marred by bad political decisions, Germany has grown from its horrific past and has moved on from it, distancing itself vehemently from the WWII era Nazi movement, rather than justifying it or embracing it as trolls on IMDb down-voting a movie simply because it portrays their country in a negative and dramatically embellished light. Either way, we aren't here to discuss the politics of this situation, just the film itself. We are simply stating how perplexed we are that the Russians have seemingly forgotten their past, the good and the bad, and continue to talk badly about this film for its talk of Russia alone and not its performance, storytelling abilities or cinematic integrity.

"Child 44" is a decent crime thriller that takes place in an intriguing setting under the harshest of circumstances. Any story dealing with child murders is going to be difficult to portray, but when this plot is combined with Soviet era politics, false accusations and torture, it makes for one hell of a downer. Tom Hardy plays Leo, an orphaned child who became a media sensation as a war hero during WWII. After the war, Leo becomes a member of the Russian military secret police, aka the MGB, translated to Ministry for State Security. His job is to seek out traitors to the USSR and coax confessions from them, and to make sure that the USSR is always projecting the communist ideal both within its country's borders and to the world abroad. When the son of his fellow MGB officer and close friend Alexei Andreyov (Fares Fares) is murdered, the official government report dismisses his death as a train accident since "murder is a capitalist disease" and something that could never happen in Russia. This information doesn't sit well with Leo, which leads him to make a series of decisions that costs him his high-ranking position in the MGB. The oppression of information is key in running a dictatorship and Leo is threatening that control of information by seeking out his own. Leo's search for the truth about the murder of his friend's son quickly turns into both the search for a serial killer and a fight for his own life since he is now himself seen as a traitor against Russian ideals. Running parallel to this story is the unfolding of Leo's relationship with his wife Raisa, played by Noomi Rapace, and how everything might not be as hunky dory with his domestic life as he thinks it is. Even writing this out, it is clear there are a lot of things happening in this film and none of these story lines shine the best light on Stalin era Russia. The implication that a country would rather project an idealistic society rather than stop a serial killer is pretty damming, but hey, this is a work of fiction, and given Stalin's history, it isn't totally unbelievable.

We like Tom Hardy a lot and he puts on a good performance as Leo, though it is clear he is over-acting his Russian accent. If we had to pick in an accent show-down from this week alone, though, Hardy's Russian accent is far superior to that of Dakota Fanning's British accent in "Effie Gray" from our review a few days ago. Some of the other performances in the film weren't as good as Hardy's and many of the other Russian accents are certainly rough, but it doesn't detract too much from the film. Hardy is certainly an intense and versatile actor, and with the character of Leo, he is able to convince the audience that he would go above and beyond for his country and the MGB, even going so far as telling his best friend, who is grieving the loss of his young son, that his death was an accident and not a murder. Noomi Rapace and Tom Hardy team up once again after last year's underrated sleeper film "The Drop," and the two do have good chemistry here, but Rapace definitely needs to work on her accent if she wants to play another Russian character in the future. Hardy and Gary Oldman also team up again for the fourth time in their careers and when they are on screen together, both shine and play off of each other's greatness. Where Hardy is very pushy in his attempt to show off his Russianness, Oldman is much more subdued, yet more effective, in my opinion. The biggest shock as far as the acting in this movie belongs to Joel Kinnaman, who we didn't hate this time around! Though his character Vasili is completely detestable as a person and we wish he would die the second we see him on screen, Kinnaman portrays him extremely well. The permanent angry, nasty look on his face aided him in this performance.

The biggest problem we have with this film is its pacing. The movie is around 2 hours and 17 minutes long and it feels every second of it. We have been saying this a lot lately in our reviews, where we feel each and every single millisecond of a movie, and when your butt hurts from sitting in your seat for too long, you know you've just encountered something pretty tedious. By the time this movie was over, we felt like it had been a day. That being said, we wouldn't call the film boring as there is enough political intrigue to keep us interested, it just requires a lot of attention because there are so many moving parts, but in your effort to concentrate on every single thing going on throughout the film, you might begin to nod off or get lost every now and then. There are also some good actions scenes that involve some extremely graphically violent executions, though these scenes are proceeded by long stretches of intense amounts of talking and some dragging here and there.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~26%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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