Films adopt self-serious tones all the time, as that is the very nature of drama. However, drama is meant to convey ideas, themes, stories, and characters, and whereas a lighter-hearted film can get away with skimping on those details, an intense dramatic piece cannot afford to sacrifice that intellectual meat, as there would be nothing left to make the film enjoyable. Alas, it seems nobody told this to the makers of Child 44, a garbled mess of a film that left me confused and underwhelmed.
To be fair, there is the bone structure of a pretty interesting tale in Child 44. Set in Stalinist Soviet Russia, a murderer of small boys has been running amok, and the Russian government has done nothing to stop it because to do so would be to acknowledge that Russia is not the paradise their propaganda says it is. Enter Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), a Ministry of State Security agent who discovers the cover-up and becomes determined to put a stop to the killer, even at the expense of his own political advancement.
Sounds decently interesting, right? Well, the film decides to spend its first hour piling on subplot after subplot to the point where the film’s true storyline isn’t even apparent until halfway through. Instead, we’re treated to half-baked woeful tales of the oppressive Russian regime as seen through the eyes of various popular and unpopular groups. None of these distractions add anything to the overarching story, and they only serve to overpopulate the film with minor characters who muddy the script so as to obscure the real story and even the protagonist.
This might have been forgivable if the film were intent on making a statement in its portrayal of Stalinist Russia, but even as a layperson I can tell that historical inaccuracies abound. The secret police is a bit less than secret as they wave their rifles through the streets of Moscow, and the government seems so focused on oppressing its own people that it doesn’t seem to have a clear goal other than just doing that. This isn’t an accurate representation of a dark time in Russian history; this is a caricature, designed to serve the purposes of the formula plot buried underneath all the self-serious posturing. This would have been fine in a standard action thriller, where the point would not be political statement but shallow entertainment. But when a serious film is made with only the illusion of depth, it makes that film dull, unnecessarily complicated, and confusing.
Child 44 could have been a good film. My understanding is that the novel that acts as its source material is quite good, and screenwriter Richard Price has proved his worth by writing for HBO’s The Wire. However, the script needed tighter revisions and more historical research in order to make it work, or otherwise the film needed to be self-aware of the farce that it was. Instead, Child 44 is like a child wearing their parents’ clothes: half-formed and only pretending to be more.
Does it bother you when accents in films don’t feel accurate? This film had plenty such issues, and it brought me out of the experience. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.