The paranoia is palpable in this Soviet thriller.

Please note the review below may contain minor spoilers - I've done my best to keep them to a minimum.

At the tail-end of Stalin-led Communism a series of ever-growing child murders begin to surface. But with propaganda rife, potential enemies lurking behind every door and leaders intent on their own advancement whilst simultaneously pushing the parties agenda - the victims are forgotten.

Child 44 begins in 1933, a young Ukranian boy is found wandering through a makeshift camp after surviving the mass-starvation afflicting the area - known historically as the Holodomor - orphaned and alone, he is adopted by a Soviet soldier who takes pity upon him, and given the name Leo Demidov.

Skip forward to 1945 Leo (now played by our lead Tom Hardy) is part of the Red Army, fighting German soldiers - along with the audience being introduced to Alexei (Fares Fares) and quite an apparent coward Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) - during which Leo is photographed victoriously atop the Reichstag - a homage to the iconic Yevgeny Khaldei image.

Now 8 years later - a celebrated Soviet war hero - Leo is leading a squad within the MGB (Ministry of State Security) an internal police force with some of his squad from the army (Alexei & Vasili). Itís here where we first get our glimpse into the regime Leo is now enforcing, as he and his team chase a man on the run (played by Jason Clarke) whom when asked by Leo why heís running - encapsulates the totalitarian existence they are now in - by responding that the mere accusation of being a spy regardless of truth, is guilt in itself.

And to exemplify that further, after being tortured for a Ďconfessioní he is lead into an empty bullet-riddled courtyard, towards a firing-squad awaiting. In case you havenít realised by now, Child 44 is bleak - the atmosphere it sets up in this Communist world may not be entirely historically accurate, but it works brilliantly. So much so that Russia itself has banned the film from their screens.

And on the other side of the curtain, we get to see the MGB officers attending a lavish dinner with their wives, introducing us to Leoís emotionally distant wife Raisa played by Noomi Rapace who is sporting quite the new look with blonde hair and eyebrows, it definitely doesnít add anything to the story and only served to distract my attention visually taking me out of the experience when she is on screen - which is a shame, as the only reason I can think why they did it would have been to remain faithful to the original book that Child 44 is based upon.

But a person who will catch your eye is the ostracized Vasili, brilliantly encapsulated by Joel Kinnaman whom director Daniel Espinosa also worked with on Kinnamanís breakthrough performance Easy Money. Espinosa really gets the most out of Kinnaman as we see his character Vasili slowly transform over the course of Child 44 from coward to psychotic, itís subdue but excellently done.

Itís here that the movie finally unravels its root thread, as Leoís friend and fellow MGB officer Alexeiís son is found dead. Clearly a murder, but ruled an accident by the state in order to push propaganda that murder is a Ďcapitalist diseaseí and not one born within their self-made Ďparadiseí. Thus begins the realization through Leo, that this might not be quite the paradise he initially imagined. Forced by his Senior Officers to handle Alexei personally, and to save him - and his family - from being next in that bullet-riddled courtyard, persuades him to accept the states narrative of events and let the issue go.

But as the body count piles up and the citizens abducted incrasingly becoming family and friends on accusations of being spies, Leo has to simultaneously juggle work, a wife who seemingly wants nothing to do with him and a serial killer working with impunity. There are a lot of balls in the air to juggle, and itís easy to see how the film was adapted from the first in a series of books by Tom Rob Smith, with the interwoven narratives all chugging along together.

And that may indeed by a turn-off point for many viewers, it feels like the film takes a long time to get going, with at least a good 30 minutes before we even touch on the main plot. But that exposition is needed, these characters are no mere cardboard cutouts, but layered with their own priorities and problems within this dystopian world that goes beyond the main plot.

Hardyís performance itself is great, even if the accent feels a little forced, as - hair distraction aside - is Noomiís. During the course of the film we also get a refreshing cameo by Gary Oldman, I just wish he had more screentime as this is the kind of material he can chew upon and shine within.

Child 44 may indeed not be for everyone, but if you are looking for a film with depth, characters that you can get invested in and a world that oozes atmosphere, then it might just be for you. Similarly if you are looking for something more action-packed, then look elsewhere. This is a straight-up slow-boiling thriller - with only minor grievances I can pick out - a well executed one at that.

Child 44 is currently available to buy on Blu-ray & DVD via Amazon or on-demand via Amazon Video.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    30th April 2015

  • 4 Out of 5 Stars
  • Underused Gary Oldman

    Noomi blonde distraction

  • Joel Kinnaman

    Atmosphere

    Story & character depth

    The setup

Film Info

Child 44 Child 44
Rating: 15
Release Date: 17th April
Runtime: 2 hrs 17 mins
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Paddy Considine & Joel Kinnaman

  • Girl With A Dragon Tattoo
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

No. Multiple acts of execution, torture and content based on child-murders

Adapted from a book of the same name by Tom Rob Smith.