Child 44 is about loyalty. Loyalty to your partner, your friend, and to the state. It particularly explores which “loyalty” takes precedence. Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is a war hero, and as the film begins, a respected member of Stalin’s military police in 1953. He hunts down traitors, one of them Anatoly Brodsky (Jason Clarke) who implicates Leo’s wife, Rasia (Noomi Rapace) as a spy. Leo must choose between his loyalty to the state and disowning his wife, or standing by her side. Meanwhile a series of children have been murdered in Moscow, but the police refuse to acknowledge the truth, “there is no murder in paradise.”
The murders follow Leo and Raisa as they are exiled to a coal mining town for disobeying the government. The film begins to drags its feet through a murder-mystery that is elementary—especially since they show the murderer half way through the film; eliminating any suspense. The chemistry between Hardy and Rapace is non-existent and you never get the feeling, especially with Raisa that she would stay dedicated to Leo. Character actors like Charles Dance, and Jason Clarke are underutilized. Gary Oldman appears as General Nesterov, an ally to Leo and then disappears only to reappear for a short moment at the end of the film. Child 44 never knows what it wants to be; a mystery or an uninspired statement on dystopic governments. It usually leans towards the latter. As unoriginal as the statement might be, the film creates a convincing atmosphere of paranoia where no one is safe, even high ranking officials of the police force.
Director Daniel Espinosa might not get credit for making an exciting murder-mystery thriller, but gives the film a realism and honesty that it needs. In a superhero dominated film culture and where every film likes to give a wink and a nod to the audience. It pleasing to see a film budgeted at 50 million dollars take its subject matter seriously. Child 44 does not resort to action schlock, but stays truthful to the time and circumstances that influence the characters decisions. A time where friends betray friends, and paranoia runs rampant. Production designer (Jan Roelfs) and set decorator (Sophie Hervieu) are the true heroes of the film giving us a gritty glimpse inside Stalinist Russia with communal living quarters and propaganda posters lining the wall and mud covered streets. Stalin’s “paradise” is cold, frightening and unlike Hunger Games or the Divergent series the dystopian society depicted was once very real. In the days leading up to the film’s release Russia has banned the thriller from theatres for its negative portrayal of the Russian Government. It seems some things never change.