HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Child 44
HTS Overall Score:72
Thrillers, true thrillers are hard to come by these days. It seems that bleak thrillers are a piece of bygone history with the majority of the depressing movies being largely dystopian futures. Young adult fiction is fraught with it and films like “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “The Hunger Games”, “Elysium”, and others capitalize on that new trend. Thus it’s rather refreshing to see a throwback to the days of the gritty thriller with the likes of “Child 44”. Centered around a child serial killer, the original story is based off of real like Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo (although this movie takes place in post WWII Russia when Chikatilo had his run a couple of decades later). A bit odd, and many times unorthodox, “Child 44” tries to blend political machinations in with the serial killing for a decidedly different, if not sometimes off putting, tale.
It’s 1953 and Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is in charge of a Russian MGB investigative unit. After refusing to denounce his wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), as a British spy, the pair are shipped off to Militsia, one of the cruelest and most remote outputs in Russia. There he finds out that children are being murdered along the train tracks and then tossed away ritualistically. Normally this would make for some pretty standard fare in terms of thrillers, but this is cold war Russia. As one character says “There are no murderers in Paradise”. The state is so intent on keeping up this image that destructive capabilities are a symptom of Western capitalism, everything is glossed over and swept under the rut, so to speak. Leo is stone walled at every turn and, not only that, but he is arrested in an effort to make sure that these instances do not come to light.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=50713[/img]“Child 44” is an interesting dichotomy. It has a lot of good things going for it, especially with the casting. Tom Hardy is good at just about every role he ever does, and Noomi Rapace is an incredible chameleon as the disturbed Raisa. Gary Oldman is good in his limited role as General Nesterov, and even the wooden Joel Kinnaman turns in a solid performance as the arch nemesis, and greedy little subordinate of Leo. The problems are in the writing though, with some seriously strange twists of events that keep the story from being better than it was. For the first hour of the film we’re presented with the political maneuverings of the 1950’s era “Red” Russia, with characters doing their best to speak in the thickest possible Russian accents and spend more time trying to cover up the crimes than anything else. To be more precise they turned the Russian leading party into a raging cliché of the Cold War era. Emotionless, cruel and willing to do whatever it took to make sure “the state” was innocent, they turn the stomach and chill the bones as the political back stabbings unfold. The second half picks up a bit when they start tracking down the killer, but it’s not as effective as it could have been, as the killer is a side character that really isn’t well fleshed out, or at least not as fleshed out as I would have liked. Probably a good 90% of the movie is spend dealing with the Russian cover up of the crime rather than the actual tracking down of the serial killer himself. Leo and Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) twirl their mustaches and make you feel as if you’re in the middle of a “commie” propaganda film. I will not deny that much of the cold war era was probably like that in many ways (just read the stories of escapees of that time period), but the blatant flaunting of that era just feels a bit weird.
I enjoy Rapace a lot, and the conflict between her and Tom were actually really well done, with some great performances on the side. My only real issues come with the afore mentioned writing, and the lack of impact that the actual killer had on the entire story. That is, beside the fact that he drives Leo to track him down and instigates this whole “loss of power” that he goes through. In the end I’m not sure whether we’re watching an anti-communist propaganda flick, or whether it really is about a serial killer, as a good chunk of the run time was spent dealing with political machinations of the Russian MGB rather than the actual killer and his exploits.
Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=50721[/img]It’s becoming less and less common to see new movies shot entirely on celluloid, but director Daniel Espinosa uses traditional film stock to give this gritty little thriller an even grittier texture. The film can be a bit soft at times due to the film stock, but 95% of the time we get a beautifully textured end product. With stunning detail and a wide array of colors. Set in post WWII Russia, we are privy to a plethora of different greys, earthy browns, and olive greens, but there are instances bright coloring, especially out in the forest of Militsia. The burnished reds and blues of the richer apartments stand out against the slightly golden color grading that Espinosa employed for the movie. Black levels are inky black and deep as can be, but sometimes I noticed that it was a bit TOO black with some crush evident from the get go. There is the occasional washed out black levels as well, but overall they are excellent with only moments where these little flaws rear their heads. The disc itself seems to be free of any major artifacts besides the crush, and while I noticed a flicker of banding near the beginning, that does not show up except in that brief instance.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=50729[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a solid runner up for best part of the movie, with only some accent issues to mar it up (which does not affect the score due to not being an issue with Lionsgate). Being an American movie about Russia, be sure that there are PLENTY of thick Russian accents and those accents can sometimes be a bit hard to hear. The dialog itself is clean and clear as a bell, but with all those heavy heavy fake Russian accents I had to turn on the subtitles to hear much of the dialog. Especially from Tom Hardy. Surrounds are general pretty active, with solid immersion, and the LFE is consistent and powerful when needed. The opening war time scene at the beginning packs the most punch, with the LFE boosting the gun fire and cannon shots that rip up the landscape.
• "Reflections of History" featurette
I love being surprised by films, and “The Water Diviner” certainly surprised me. Given nearly no marketing and coming with an unassuming front cover, I expected a melodramatic drama that tries to tug on the heart I have to say that I’m rather torn with this one. On one hand I REALLY love Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, and they don’t disappoint in the least with their performances, but the rather ham-fisted handling of the script was a bit of a turnoff for me. So it’s one of those movies that both equally impresses and equally disappoints. I don’t regret watching the 2+ hour film, but I do recognize some serious flaws in the storytelling which leads me to give this one a tentative rental. If you’re swayed by specs then you should know that the audio and video are good to excellent, but at the same time, the extras are next to nill. So once again, torn with equal parts good and equal parts bad. Take your pick.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Written by: Richard Price (Screenplay), Tom Rob Smith (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Runtime: 137 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 4th, 2015
Buy Child 44 On Blu-ray at Amazon
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