DVD Review: Child 44

It’s too bad “Child 44” bombed so badly at the box office. It coulda been a contender.

Set in Russia, the movie is as long as Russia. Sometimes you see a faltering movie and you say, “Such a pity: there’s a good story in there somewhere.” With “Child 44,” there are about six good stories in there somewhere, which explains why the original cut was five and a half hours long. Whacked down to 2 hours 20 minutes, the movie stubbornly and unsuccessfully strives to maintain all its many story lines through plot compression and evisceration. Not a pretty sight.

Except that the sights are works of genius — Tolkien noir, dreary and atmospheric — as it should be in a tale set in Stalin’s Russia. The sets must have cost a bundle. The locomotives, trucks, uniforms, furnishings, cigarettes and haircuts are the real deal. Heck, even the acting’s good. But what emerged from the cutting room is an unholy mishmash.

It’s 1953 and everyone is either scared stiff or working for the secret police. Great Patriotic War hero Leo (Tom Hardy) is an exceptionally loyal member of the Ministry for State Security. Keen, astute and dogged, he tracks down traitors and forces them to confess. But though he is as keen as mustard, he has a heart — which is more than you can say for the sadists who surround him.

Inconveniently, a child murderer descends on the land. Stalin has declared that murder cannot exist in the workers’ paradise, so Leo, who is an honest fellow, finds his investigation of the murders has placed him in bad odor with the top floor. Then a creepy cop claims Leo’s wife is an enemy of the people and Leo is called upon to denounce her. Leo says nyet.

So Leo and his dour wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), are banished to a Soviet backwater called Volsk where, as fate would have it, the child murderer is particularly active.

As Leo and Raisa hunt the monster, nefarious factions of the secret police hunt them. Cornered, Leo demonstrates that he is very good with his fists. The fight scenes — there are four humdingers — are exceptionally well done.

Personally, we would like to see the original director’s cut. We may be alone in this, but “Child 44” is probably a really good movie. Extra incentive: Vladimir Putin hated it.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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