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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Child 44

Directed by: Daniel Espinosa

Produced by: Ridley Scott
Michael Schaefer
Greg Shapiro

Screenplay by: Richard Price

Based on: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Starring: Tom Hardy
Gary Oldman
Noomi Rapace
Joel Kinnaman
Paddy Considine
Vincent Cassel
Jason Clarke

Music by: Jon Ekstrand

Cinematography by: Philippe Rousselot

Edited by: Dylan Tichenor

Studio(s): Summit Entertainment
Worldview Entertainment
Scott Free Productions

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date: April 17, 2015 (United Kingdom)
April 17, 2015 (United States, limited)

Running time: 137 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom
Czech Republic

Language: English

Production budget: $50 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $3, 324, 330

It's been seven months since I've written a review for a film, so on this one you'll have to excuse me if I seem relatively rusty. Work has been very busy, and as such I had to take a significantly longer period of time off than what I'm used to. I've always said though, I want to keep at this reviewing shebang for at least ten years before I decide to ride off into the sunset, so by my count you've still got at least two more years of my ass. Despite my inactivity on the blogosphere, I won't say much about what I've been doing in my absence, but I'll just let you know that I have been busy in a number of other departments. I'll deliver the good news when the time is ready. Anywho, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Child 44. Now, admittedly, I haven't seen many movies this year, but now that I've finally jumped onto the whole subscription-based streaming service shebang (yes, I actually have Netflix now), it means I can do a lot of catching up and still go to the cinema on a semi-regular basis, despite my various work schedules, projects and distractions. Child 44 was one of these films. Based on Tom Rob Smith's 2008 novel of the same name, it boasts an ensemble cast of international stars including Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Charles Dance, and the weight of having Ridley Scott's clout behind it as a producer. So, all fingers were pointing at a potentially strong film, but the film was critically derided and tanked at the box-office upon release, earning only $3.3 million off of it's $50 million budget. However, I saw the film before I knew all these details, and I have followed next to nothing when it comes to film reviews this year, so I had an open mind going in. The story is set during Stalin's rule in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, with war hero turned Ministry of State Security (MGB) agent Leo Davidov (Hardy) uncovering a strange series of brutal child murders. However, because Soviet doctrine states that only capitalism creates serial, and the MGB leadership refuses to acknowledge the deaths as murders. Meanwhile, as his partner's son is murdered by the serial killer, his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is accused of being disloyal to the state. Leo stands by his wife, refusing to support the accusation, possibly manufactured by Vasili Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman), a ruthlessly ambitious and amoral MGB agent, and he is disgraced and forced to take a lower militia position in the town of Volsk. After more child murders are discovered in Volsk, Leo and Raisa convince his new commander General Nesterov (Gary Oldman) to help them, and their investigations reveal that the killer has claimed at least forty-four victims. Got it? Good!

Now that we have that insane level of basil exposition out of the way (going over the plot again is always one of my least favourite parts of a review, especially given a lot of people aren't interested in such tedious points), let's get down to business. To start off with the good, that is a star-studded line up of a cast, and I'd be denying if I didn't say that there were some good performances. Tom Hardy, although being saddled with a rather nondescript protagonist, brings suitable presence and weight to the character of Leo. Although it's clearly not one of his best roles, it's easy to see why he's taking over the world in 2015, what with Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend and the upcoming The Revenant all under his belt. As always, Gary Oldman is watchable onscreen, but then again Oldman could make watching paint dry watchable. Vincent Cassel shares a number of the film's best onscreen dialogues with Tom Hardy, in particular the scene when Leo has to tell his friend that his son's death was an 'accident.' Finally, Paddy Considine shows once again his range of talents in a part that in a lesser man's hands could have turned out negatively. None of these performances frankly are what you could call 'great,' but they are relatively noteworthy. The best thing Child 44 has going for it in fact is it's production value. $50 million is not a small sum, but it is all up there onscreen. The film's onscreen world is a believable depiction of the Soviet Union in the 1950s. The team on production design did a terrific job in making locations in the Czech Republic and Croatia match that of the time depicted onscreen. Also, the costume and make-up/hair departments have quite clearly spent a lot of time researching and attempting to replicate the actual period look. This is all captured rather well by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot. Now, while it has been argued (understandably perhaps) that the film looks ugly, I disagree in that what Rousselot has done with the colour palette is go for authenticity, and as far as I'm concerned, if the world looks ugly because it's meant to, then that's okay with me.

So, I must say, I didn't feel as negatively about Child 44 as some people did. However, it is still only a decent movie at best, and I'll tell you why. For starters, as far as plot's concerned it's a sprawling, over-convoluted mess of a picture. Just for comparison's sake (perhaps an unfair one, sure), I watched The Godfather again last night. The Godfather is one of those labyrinthine epics which justifies it's length and sprawling nature because Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo spent so much time fleshing out that world from the ground up, developing with three-dimensional characters and making decisions about what direction they go which make perfect sense. In the case of Child 44, now while I haven't read the book, screenwriter Richard Price does not fully flesh out the central characters never mind the supporting ones, and as such I am just not going to fully engaged in the many subplots involved here if I can't even get involved in the central one. Either spend more time in building up the characters so we can believe in them or get rid of some of the subplots, because it has about two or three too many. Also in that regard, while I generally like and admire his work as an editor, I think that Dylan Tichenor should have been on this film's case like the plague, eliminating unnecessary details with a fine tooth-comb. Taking twenty or thirty minutes out of Child 44 might not have helped it make any more sense, but at least it would have been much more tolerable than it's gluttonous 137-minute running time. I can't really say much about Jon Ekstrand's score because I don't remember it, but that probably equates in my memory to 'generic, murder-by-numbers etc.,' usual Dude rhetoric on these matters. Finally, although it must have been a daunting job to try and keep all of these elements under control, I feel that Daniel Espinosa's direction lacks focus and true authorial intent.

Well, there you have it, in quick time as well, I've managed to bang out my first review for a movie from 2015 (at long last!). Child 44 is by no means as bad a movie as many are cracking it up to be. It has some good performances from Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel and Paddy Considine, a well-crafted and believable period mise-en-scene and cinematography that helps accentuate the legitimacy of that setting. However, it is a sprawling mess with too many subplots, undeveloped characters, less choppy editing than I care for considering it's gluttonous running time and lacking the focus to take it in the right direction it needs to go.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzing (now that the festival season's over, I can get back to not just reviewing but writing as a whole. I love it!)

P.S. Child 44 receiving limited release in the United States shows how much Lionsgate gave up on what could have potentially been a tent-pole film if marked properly. Hard property to market, mind...

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