Child 44 Review
A disgraced military hero seeks to find a child murderer outside the boundaries of the law in Stalin’s Soviet Union.
“There is no murder in paradise.”Child 44 opens with this poignant phrase, the official slogan of the authorities in the USSR in the 1950s. Opposing the corruption of the West, the Soviet Union sought communism’s promise of a utopian society. The flaws of humanity, however, were not taken into account when creating this utopia. This reality is shown in Child 44, the film adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy by the same name, which stars Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov.He is remarkable on screen and the sheer largesse of his acting skill is enough to distract from any seemingly weak plotlines. As a character, we are allowed a glimpse into his early life as an orphan and the adoptive family who renames him and shows him compassion. Leo grows into a man and war hero, who enjoys the good graces of his colleagues and superior officers in Moscow, where he’s happily married to Raisa, a soft-spoken primary school teacher.
When Leo’s friend’s child is murdered, the government is quick to classify and close the case as an accident, though everyone is aware no such accident occurred. The characters struggle to maintain hope and believe in the truth when their oppressors are meant to be their protectors. The black and white realities of their lives and the expectation of blind obedience leaves little room for individual freedom or courage. Gary Oldman’s character, General Nesterov, though not given much screen time, does see this value eventually, after some serious convincing on Leo and Raisa’s part.
Leo himself has always been rewarded handsomely through this obedience to the Kremlin. When he begins to see the crumbling of the military’s integrity before his very eyes, the conflicted man struggles between truth: the innocence of his loved ones, and the fear he feels towards the military’s absolute authority. Raisa, played by Noomi Rapace, certainly plays second fiddle to Hardy’s Leo, but her character does evolve from timid field mouse to a caged animal, ready to fight for survival. As she and Leo learn more about each other, so too, does her loyalty grow, and she begins to appreciate him for the man he is trying to become.
The philosophy of the social contract sprang to mind whilst viewing Child 44. The entire film was dripping with fear and anticipation in what was meant to be an idealistic world. In a society (fictional, even though clearly based on the Soviet Union) where even actual innocence isn’t rewarded with justice, how would humans remain human? When the primal instincts are triggered, survival becomes the only goal, as Raisa recounts in her dialogue with Leo when she finally reveals her reason for marrying him.
A comparison evolves between Leo and the killer, allowing the viewer to contemplate the line drawn between ‘monster’ and ‘hero’.
The idea of humanity is further explored when we are allowed a voyeuristic inside view of the killer. His behaviour is clearly that of someone who was tortured himself, thus creating a bit more understanding (though certainly not exemption) for his actions. A comparison evolves between Leo and the killer, which allows the viewer to contemplate what it is to be “a monster” and where the line is drawn between ‘monster’ and ‘hero’.
There has been a great deal discussed, regarding this film’s “propagandist” element, and I cannot deny, the timing of the film’s release (just over one year since Russia’s annexation of Crimea) acutely reminds the world of what has occurred recently and is ongoing. Russian distributors decided to pull the film from cinemas based on the film’s historical inaccuracies, and whether that choice is taken as an admission of guilt or as taking a stance for the reputation of their Russian Federation, it is hard to know from the outside. But I would venture the timing of the release and the refusal to exhibit the film in Russia is relevant.
Lastly, though the film warns of the child-killing theme, I actually found the visuals of shootings without quick cutaways and stabbings more provocative. The grim reality director Daniel Espinosa is working to portray is extremely affecting in that manner, and it does indeed, make one wonder if bravery, not to mention humanity, of any sort would be possible under similar circumstances. I wouldn’t call Child 44 enjoyable, but I would call it raw, conflicted, and deeply thoughtful on several counts.
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