What do you get when you mix a best-selling novel, a gifted screenwriter, half a dozen superb actors, and an experienced production with a proven director of action movies and a $50 million production budget?
A mess-and an infuriating one at that.
Working from author Tom Robb Smith’s highly-acclaimed novel of the same name, director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) and noted screenwriter Richard Price (Clockers, Sea of Love, The Wire) have taken a steadily compelling thriller set in cold war-era Russia and turned it into an incoherent stew of sudden lurches in plot, poorly crafted character development and inexplicable gaps in storyline, in the process wasting the fine talents of the supremely gifted English actor Tom Hardy (Locke, RocknRolla, Bronson, Inception) and a cast that includes Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, RoboCop, the Easy Money crime trilogy,) Gary Oldman, (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Batman trilogy) along with Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) and the redoubtable British character Charles Dance (Imitation Game, Gosford Park, Game of Thrones).
As set forth in the novel, this bleak tale of a serial killer stalking young boys along the post WWII Russian rain road network derived its tension from the refusal of those in authority to even admit that seemingly unconnected crimes could have a common author - - and this at a time when the official reporting of these events listed them as “railroad accidents” to conform to Stalin’s insistence that in communist Russia, unlike Western democracies, murder simply wasn’t possible
But all is adrift here, colliding in endlessly inexplicable scenes, employing mumbled lines that sound as though they’ve been assembled from a madman’s attempt at Scrabble. The result is a pastiche of truculent sociopolitical commentary and nearly laughable attempts at creating believable dialogue designed to convey some sense of the characters’ motivations.
If any credit should be given this film, reserve it for technical accomplishment. Its production design, set decoration and art direction, when combined with cinematographer Oliver Wood’s (The Bourne Trilogy), moody camera work, Child 44 exudes a palpable sense of time and place, making the film’s erratic plot and often-inane dialogue all the more baffling. How can one movie get so many disparate things just right only to be undone by such an unwieldy script?
Stories abound that large portions of the original version of Child 44 (rumored to have been as much as 50% of its footage) were eliminated to arrive at its final, 2 hr. 15 minute running time. I don’t know why the producers didn’t just release the movie at its original length; it couldn’t possibly have been worse than this version.
The Verdict? What a shame; so much talent put to no discernable artistic or commercial purpose.
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