Child 44 (2015)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Fares Fares

Directed by: Daniel Espinosa

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Noomi Rapace and Tom Hardy in Child 44

There is no murder in paradise.

So goes the official party line in Stalinist Russia. But in the unrelentingly brutal world depicted in Child 44, violence, death and, yes, murder, are all too horribly common.

Ostensibly, this film is about the hunt for a twisted serial killer responsible for the torture and deaths of over forty young boys. But it's hard for military police officer Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) to investigate a crime that isn't meant to exist in a perfect Communist world. Harder still when he's surrounded by intrigue, suspicion and betrayal, faced with the choice of denouncing his own wife (Noomi Rapace) as a western spy or exiling them both to the arse-end of nowhere at the end of the clanking steam trainline.

Because really, Child 44 isn't about tracking down a murderer at all, it's mostly about how utterly rubbish it was to live in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. A time when actual living didn't appear to be much of an option, where surviving or getting by was the best you could hope for. At one point, we witness our hero and heroine struggling helplessly in a ditch full of grey, claggy mud, filthy, desperate and bogged down in the mire. This is a pretty fair metaphor for their entire lives.

Suffice to say, this is not a cheerful film.

Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy in Child 44The emphasis on institutional gloom and misery, together with a lengthy running time, an occasionally baggy script and a somewhat unconvincing denouement, threaten to make Child 44 a bit of a long, drawn out and joylessly monochrome ordeal. But the film is saved by sensitive performances from the ever-marvellous Gary Oldman (on Tinker Tailor form rather than The Fifth Element scenery-chewing mode) and Tom Hardy, who, red-eyed, pasty-faced and sporting a most unflattering haircut, has the requisite mix of defeated exhaustion and suppressed aggression for a disgraced war hero.

As a window on a period of history about which I know little, Child 44 is certainly eye-opening. As an afternoon's entertainment, it does occasionally test the patience, but the strong performances and grim period details make the slog worthwhile.

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