'Child 44': What the Critics Are Saying
Tom Hardy stars as a member of the military police in Stalin's Soviet union investigating a string of horrific child murders.
Tom Hardy stars as a disgraced military policeman in the Stalin-era Soviet Union investigating a series of bizarre and brutal child murders. Based on the novel of the same name by Englishman Tom Rob Smith, the film is directed by Daniel Espinosa and also stars Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, and Noomi Rapace.
Opening with a limited domestic release in roughly 500 theaters and 20 overseas markets, the film is currently banned in Russia.
Read what top critics are saying about Child 44:
The Hollywood Reporter's Jordan Mintzer writes, "It's difficult to tell what may be the most menacing aspect of the Stalin-era thriller, Child 44: Is it the serial killer preying on young children encountered along the train tracks? The nonstop purges conducted by the Soviet secret police, forcing men to betray their loved ones in order to survive? Or is it the array of thick Russian accents performed by an entirely non-Slavic cast, in what may be the most Westernized version of the USSR since David Lean made the great Doctor Zhivago?" Even Hardy and Rapace's "committed turns — plus some impressive set pieces and possibly the most amount of mud ever flung at so many hardworking actors — cannot overcome a sense of dramatic inertia, not to mention a need to suspend our disbelief enough to accept that these are all a bunch of unhappy Ruskies."
The "movie doesn't really captivate the way it should. As the manhunt stretches on, it actually diminishes in suspense, ultimately overstaying its two-hour running time." Although "certain sequences stand out, especially a handful of conjugal clashes that allow Hardy and Rapace to showcase their range," some "other scenes feel like boilerplate B-movie moments dressed up with epic production design" and "yet more heavily accented dialogue." The film is "definitely not a nostalgia piece, and there are no feel-good scenes of party members downing vodka shots, then joining hands with their female comrades for a troika. … Mother Russia has never looked so grim — with or without the Russians themselves."
USA Today's Claudia Puig notes that Hardy's agent Leo Demidov "is the only well-developed character in a handsomely mounted but tedious drama with an impressive international cast." The film "is at its best when focused on the untrustworthy-ness of Moscow politicians. Then, it switches gears midstream and tries to become a creepy David Fincher-style murder mystery." Despite the "implausibility and the story's scattered plot, Child 44 has portions of a compelling drama. And Hardy is thoroughly mesmerizing." The movie "could have been far more compelling had it dug deeper into its political thriller layers and not drifted into yet another story of a diabolical killer on the loose."
The New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier calls it a "bloody borscht of a suspense flick" and "a muddled, mumbling thriller that never gets us in an iron grip." The film "has a mix of ludicrous 'Gee, ya think?' moments — like the connection between the child murders, which any village idiot could see are linked. There's also the convoluted, overly dense plotting." The "mystery at the heart of the film is a riddle wrapped in an enigma covered in dullness."
The New York Post's Kyle Smith says, "Calling Child 44 a mash-up of Dr. Zhivago and Silence of the Lambs doesn't do enough to capture how strange it is. When a bad guy and a worse guy are literally wrestling in the mud, you can't tell who is who — but what's worse is, you don't care." The "gritty atmosphere and sometimes smart script" can't "sort out the basics," and "we know little about either the child murder victims or their killer, … not that it much matters, given the overarching evils of the USSR."
Time Out London's Tom Huddleston writes the film is "a striking example of how a single, wrongheaded choice can doom an entire movie." It "has no excuse for being this bad. Hardy and Rapace are fine actors, and they're backed by a remarkable supporting cast," but "as soon as anyone opens their mouth, the film is reduced to laughable farce. Hardy comes off worst, risking complete tonsil failure as he barks and gulps like a demented sea lion." Due "to a feeble script, bland direction and — God, why? — those impenetrable accents, no one emerges from this fiasco with much dignity."