Child 44 Blu-ray Review
Murder In Paradise
With a trio of popular novels rich for mining and a cast to die for, Child 44 was expected to be the first of another ready-made franchise.Yet with a production that stretched across almost two years – filming commenced way back in mid-2013 – and with now-exec producer Ridley Scott passing directorial duties to Safe House’s Daniel Espinosa and the director of photography changing mid-way through the shoot (not to mention the chopping and changing of several cast members), clearly everything was not right. Trimming the five-and-a-half-hour first cut down to something over three hours shorter, the end result was not only banned by the ‘Ministry of Culture’ in Russia (and much of the former Soviet Union) but spectacularly bombed at the Box Office anyway, recouping little over 5% of its initial budget. Almost universally critical reviews sealed its fate. Clearly there was much promise in the project, with even the screenplay sitting on the famed 'Black List' back in 2008, and clearly there was much committed work invested in it both before and behind the camera, but the end result is neither cohesive nor compelling. A broad stroke tale that dips into events across decades in Russian history, the story predominantly follows war hero and highly regarded State Security Agent, Leo Demidov, who finds his life – and the lives of those close to him – in jeopardy not long after he discovers a series of connected child murders in the area.Child 44’s most interesting aspects – and probably the very elements that saw it banned – involve the almost Kafka-esque background setting of paranoia and suspicion. In this place, at this time, everybody was guilty by association, and Stalin’s assertion that ‘there can be no murder in Paradise’ merely led to state murders to silence anybody who suggested otherwise. The actual procedural elements are remarkably basic, but the nobody-is-safe backdrop gives it tacit depth, and the film shines fitfully, with key moments – including an eventful clandestine train trip in the third act – working, but the cohesion on the whole is practically non-existent. Tom Hardy commits – as you would expect – to the lead role, with strong support from Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Joel Kinnaman and Jason Clarke. Noomi Rapace tries her best, however her part, which on the face of it should have been as significant as Hardy’s, feels at-times forced, contrived and ineffectual. At least in this cut - which is perhaps a large portion of the problem with this production, reliant upon random skyline shots – or repeated shots of the same damn steam train traversing the same damn track – to segue between frequently abruptly ended scenes. There’s likely a strong story to tell within that original longer cut, but this isn’t quite it.
Picture QualityChild 44 reaches UK shores courtesy of Entertainment One, delivering a Region B-locked Blu-ray which boasts strong but not quite demo standard image quality with its 1080/AVC-encoded video presentation, framed in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Dingy and desaturated, this may not be a holiday brochure for Stalin-era Russia, but it reflects the material quite faithfully.
Detail is generally pretty good, affording close-ups the best end of the deal, whilst – at the other end of the spectrum – some of the scene-setting broader shots struggle to retain the same level of clarity. Far from devoid of softness, Child 44 still maintains fairly good standards, with some nice textures, facial detail and background nuances. The colour scheme, as you might have guessed by now, appears to have been largely stripped of primary punch, with few (a couple of first act outdoor daytime sequences show the sun actually shining and grass actually green) vibrant, vivid tones in amidst the dreary, sometimes quite dull gray-dominated depiction of the period. It doesn’t help, of course, that the film is very dark indeed, dominated by shadows which sometimes struggle to retain full detail too, but largely escape without any desperately intrusive digital defects. It’s all perfectly in-line with the tone of the material, however, even if it never quite reaches demo heights.
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides a similarly strong effort with more noticeable standout moments than the video has.
There’s plenty of atmosphere on offer here, with a sporadically engulfing array of background noises that brings the period setting to life. Things get off to a great start with the first act battle excerpt, although it sets quite high expectations for what is otherwise quite a restrained, almost dialogue driven, crime procedural. Gunshots, car, truck and train noises, and ambient touches are still well-observed, whilst dialogue rises above the rest of the track to remain clear and coherent throughout, taking precedence over the frontal array. The sombre, moody score too offers welcome support and whilst the track also likely doesn’t quite achieve demo status, this is still a solid accompaniment for the main feature.
ExtrasAside from a few Preview Trailers on disc start-up, the only extra feature is a short Featurette - Reflections of History: Recreating the World of Child 44 which thankfully largely eschews traditional fluffy EPK elements in favour of more condensed, worthwhile background information, but is still woefully restricted by its 8 minute runtime.
Blu-ray VerdictStruggling to balance Hollywood-speed ADD police procedural storytelling with more thoughtful indie-style musings on socio-political elements in Post-War Russia, Child 44 feels almost as jarringly conflicted as Hardy's earlier Lawless (which similarly came from a far longer first cut), and the final edit here feels frequently abbreviated and ineffective. Elements certainly work, and the players do generally give it their best, but it doesn't quite come together as a cohesive whole, instead merely impressing in fits and starts.
Child 44 could have been the next Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, although it appears to have suffered a similar fate in terms of Hollywood adaptations.
Even the UK Region B-locked Blu-ray release is a little hit and miss, with strong but flawed video and a distinct lack of extras (imagine the material on the cutting room floor, or the production background for a movie that took this long to put together). If you've been intrigued by this movie ever since it was announced almost 3 years ago (I had it on my list of upcoming 2014 films to look forward to back in Christmas 2013) then it's worth a rental, and Tom Hardy fans will want to add it to their collection - it's another commendable, and typically Hardy, performance. It's still disappointing to know we'll never see the rest of the trilogy come to fruition but with this flawed final cut, it's no real surprise.
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