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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Child 44 movie review: Stalin glance

Child 44 yellow light

Overly complicated yet somehow anticlimactic, and constructed more with pat Hollywood pomp rather than the authentic grit it demands.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Tom Hardy, Soviet hero of World War II, solves murders in 1950s Russia. Well, actually, there could be no murders under Communism, or so everyone tells one another in Child 44, because that’s a crime of decadent Western capitalism. Nevertheless, there are a lot of boys dead under suspicious circumstances all over southwestern Russia. Based on a novel inspired by the same real-life Soviet serial-murder case that the far superior 1995 HBO movie Citizen X details, this is an odd duck of a film: overly complicated yet somehow anticlimactic, more concerned with professional and personal jealousies among elite military investigators in Moscow than with police procedural, and eventually descending into disappointingly rote potboiler stuff. The doublethink and collective self-delusion of Soviet life keeps sidling up to something potentially interesting, but it’s most tantalizing for where it never goes. I kept expecting to discover that sneaky maneuvering was driving what seems like a coincidental stumbling over the case by Hardy’s (The Drop) Leo Demidov: you know, backroom skullduggery by men smart enough to know that denying the reality of a serial killer is politically necessary but pragmatically irresponsible, so let’s “demote” Leo and exile him straight into the path of piles of evidence. But no: it all really is just coincidental. Still, the cast — which also features Noomi Rapace (Prometheus), Joel Kinnaman (Run All Night), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Gary Oldman (RoboCop), and Paddy Considine (Pride) — is as enjoyable to spend time with as they always are. But it does all feel constructed more with pat Hollywood pomp rather than the authentic grit it demands.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Child 44 for its representation of girls and women.


yellow light 2.5 stars

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Child 44 (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 17 2015
UK/Ire release: Apr 17 2015

MPAA: rated R for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence, strong language, sex, child murder theme)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    How a man refused chauvanism in a male-chauvanist world, how a soldier rejected brutality in a brutal regime, how an officer sought rationalism and justice in a supersticiously dogmatic ideology, how two people sought love and decency in an evil world where everyone is a future enemy.

    I found it complicated, too, but perhaps that effected the feeling of chaos out of which the characters scratch out their own destinies.

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