When do you know a film has gone wrong? Sometimes it’s within the last reel, the final moments when there’s a lack of payoff or things just go ridiculously wrong. With Child 44 that moment comes much earlier and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it is. It could be the opening credits, it could be the first or second scene, the first time an actor opens his mouth to speak. It could be when you get a look at the normally ravishing Noomi Rapace, who seems stripped of any of her normal beauty. Why? Judging by the rules of this picture, there are simply no beautiful people in Russia.
The primary plot isn’t all that bad, right? The world never seems to tire of serial killer stories and the script, based on Tom Rob Smith’s readable novel of the same name, seems to want us to think that there’s a serial killer story going on here. But you need a machete and some napalm to cut through all the excess shrubbery—there are subplots within subplots within subplots here. Someone’s killing boys by the train tracks and the killer is mobile. There’s some political stuff going on—you know, murder is a capitalist disease, a point that we’re bludgeoned with, really—and some historical mumbo jumbo and maybe a little bit of romance, some deceit, blah, blah, blah.
You know all the plot elements and you’ve been interested in them before, but somehow here they just clang clang clang along like a trolley going nowhere. In fact, the whole film is reminiscent of the racket that happens when you toss all your ma’s pots and kettles down three flights of stairs. It’s a horrible, disorganized ruckus that really hurts like hell and makes you wonder why you ever did it in the first place.
And then there’s the dialogue. The normally reliable Richard Price, the man who wrote Clockers, is working way, way below his potential to the point that you have to wonder if his mind and body were suddenly inhabited by lesser intelligent aliens who had thought it would be a good idea to clip dialogue from The Wire or—hell, worse—CSI: Miami and drop them down in 1950s Soviet Moscow. ‘Cause, really, that coulda happened. The characters often speak as though they just waltzed in from New Jersey and are eager to get back to the OTB but will pop in for a second to feign interest in some dead kids and some other stuff having to do with Stalin and all that. Whatever.
Really, by the time the first 60 minutes of this turkey have flown by you’re not so much checking your watch as begging for the end—and I’m not talking about the part of the movie where the credits roll. I’m talking about the big finalé.
Some critics have been generous and given Tom Hardy credit for his acting in this film but everything about Hardy is out of tune with what the character would actually calls for that it’s hard to praise him or even the normally reliable Gary Oldman. (What is he doing here?) Rapace seems to rise above the material every now and again but an actor of her formidable talents can’t rise above the clatter of tacky writing and inexplicable plotlines.
It’s all a shame because if someone involved had taken time to learn a little bit about metaphor or allegory we might have a pretty rich story on our hands. But it’s more likely that the decision was made to go for the shocking stuff, the stuff that’d make this a thriller but they somehow managed to throw in the thrills.
Of note with this picture is that some of it was shot in the Prague subway. That’s notable because that part is also one of the least believable moments in the picture. It looks so modern, so now, that you almost expect to see people lift their smartphones to their ears or dazzle themselves with other electronic gadgets in the middle of a story set roughly a half century before any of that nonsense started.
This is a picture best avoided—everything bad already written about Child 44 is true and anything good is nothing less than false.
A pointless featurette about history or something is tacked on but why you would bother boggles the mind.