After a friend's son is found dead, Soviet secret-police officer Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) suspects his superiors are covering up the truth. When Leo dares to raise questions, he is demoted and exiled to a provincial outpost with his wife (Noomi Rapace). There, Leo soon discovers other mysterious deaths with similar circumstances and convinces his new boss (Gary Oldman) that a deranged serial killer is on the loose-and must be stopped before he strikes again in this electrifying thriller.
"There is no murder in paradise."
Fear drives many a man. In 'Child 44', characters fear their brutal totalitarian government. They fear their neighbors and friends will turn them in for crimes not committed. These people of all ranks and positions are so afraid they'll even let a child serial killer run free with no intention of stopping him.
In 1953 USSR, murder is not simply illegal; it is impossible thanks to Stalin's decree that murder is a Capitalist disease. So authorities make a concerted effort to avoid solving murder cases, instead describing such crimes as "accidents."
It's insane. But also a fantastic concept: How does one solve a crime that cannot exist?
Our hero is Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), Ministry of State Security (MGB) Agent. A man who survived a tragic orphan childhood and who became a great Soviet hero when his photograph was taken holding the nation's flag over a decimated Berlin, Leo now hunts the enemies of Communism in and around Moscow.
Though Leo is a dedicated officer, heroes in fear-driven states do not last forever. Loyalty is always suspect to testing. Leo's first obstacle comes when he must force best friend, Alexei, to stay quiet and not push for an investigation into his son's murder. If that weren't heartbreaking enough, Leo concurrently finds himself tasked with investigating his own wife -- Raisa (Noomi Rapace) -- for being a traitor. And though he finds no evidence to condemn Raisa, Leo's boss wants Leo to denounce her. Effectively calling for her death.
Leo refuses, earning exile to the remote factory town of Volsk. There, Leo reports General Nesterov (Gary Oldman) in the militia, a much lower level organization than the MGB. Leo and Raisa have lost everything, but at least they are alive. If they keep their heads down, maybe they won't be banished forever.
And then the dead body of another young boy is discovered by the train tracks.
The crime scene is suspiciously similar to Alexei's son's. Leo, realizing there is a serial killer, becomes obsessed with unraveling the killer's identity. But will Leo be able to survive this quest when friends and foes alike will stop at nothing to prevent a murder investigation from even taking place? Is Leo willing to die for so noble a cause as The Truth?
'Child 44' is an odd experience. I adore the premise. The story weaves around in interesting ways. The actors are convincing in their roles. The tone is oppressively dark (which serves the material well). Fight sequences are visceral and tense.
But I just couldn't get into this one.
I don't know what the development or production process was like, so I can't speak to how the script evolved or what happened on set but, as a finished film, 'Child 44' seems torn between telling Leo's story of falling out of grace with the MGB and his wife, and the gritty serial killer mystery. The film never really settles into one or the other. This is, at times, an admirable structure because it is quite surprising. But it's also disjointing because, as one element picks up speed, focus shifts and pacing deflates.
These disparate elements certainly serve one another (the paranoid MGB makes Leo's investigation more difficult), but I wonder if this project should have focused more on the murder and less on Leo's world, particularly in the first act. Yet, while wondering if less story would have helped focus the film, I would also say that sometimes character motivations feel thin. So maybe "focus" isn't the right answer either. Or perhaps the material would be better suited to television.
I was also distracted by the musical score that, at times, felt like outtakes from 'Seven'.
Either way, while individual scenes work quite well and the actors do a good job and the world is fascinating, I simply couldn't connect with the material. Perhaps others will enjoy the world building, tone, story, and fight sequences more than I did.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Child 44' arrives on Blu-ray in North America via Lionsgate Home Entertainment in a standard Blu-ray case that includes one BD50 and an Ultraviolet Digital HD redemption code (redeem by 8/4/2016). Pre-menu trailers include 'American Heist', 'A Most Wanted Man', 'Locke', 'Warrior', and an ad for EPIX.
'Child 44' stalks onto Blu-ray with strong video presentation encoded in AVC MPEG-4 and framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
'Child 44' has been photographed with a grim color palette representative of the era the filmmakers are recreating. It works well to set the mood and tone, but perceived resolution and black level fidelity suffer for these choices. Effectively, the overall image leans ever so slightly soft, and black levels are not quite perfectly dark while crushing shadow details. On the bright side, exterior sequences reveal more details and textures. There are also no signs of encoding errors, digital over-enhancement, or damage.
Overall, 'Child 44' boasts good, but not spectacular HD video presentation.
'Child 44' transitions onto Blu-ray with a high quality English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix.
While 'Child 44' may not be anyone go-to demo disc, this 5.1 mix is a good one. Dialog is the priority for much of the running time, but the whole track perks up during action set-pieces and fight sequences. Sound effects are crisp and dynamic, particularly gunshots. Atmospherics are also very strong -- insects, bird calls, and other nature sounds build believable outdoor soundscape while well-placed ringing phones pepper interior-office environments. Surround panning is not really aggressive, but there are a few excellent scene transitions where the soundtrack rises and envelopes. LFE levels are decent, but not earth shattering.
'Child 44' is also presented in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Descriptive Audio. Subtitle options include English, Spanish, and English SDH.
'Child 44' only has two special features:
Reflection of History: Recreating the World of 'Child 44' (HD) This short featurette includes cast and crew interviews as well as behind the scenes footage about what went into researching and recreating the costumes, props. Research was difficult for this film due to the period's heavy censorship. Surprisingly in-depth, but too short to offer any real insight into this film's development and production
Theatrical Trailer (HD)
'Child 44' offers a fantastic premise and gripping performances, but never quite coalesces as a whole. For me, it was the case of the final product not quite living up to the sum of its individual parts. That said, the movie generally works from scene-to-scene, especially action sequences, so perhaps it'll be more your cup of tea. As a Blu-ray, 'Child 44' delivers a strong video encoding and a very capable 5.1 surround experience. However, special features are minimal. If you're already a fan of 'Child 44' and don't mind the lack of special features, you'll be happy with this release. For everyone else, I would recommend giving it a rent.