Take the two Christopher Nolan movies out of the equation (Inception and The Dark Knight Rises) and Tom Hardy has unfortunately proven himself to be ill-equipped to open a movie either by himself or with another marquee name. While you can chalk some of his underperformers up to low-budget films (Locke, The Drop), his star power has nevertheless failed to materialize in bigger films since his break-out role in Bronson, like Warrior ($13 million), This Means War ($54 million), and Lawless ($37 million).
Child 44 is the latest in the a series of Tom Hardy flops, and domestically, this one flopped the hardest. Once considered a potential hit, Child 44 — which also stars Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace (with smaller roles from Vincent Cassel, Jason Clarke, and Joel Kinnaman) — the film only managed a meager $600,000 opening weekend, on a $50 million budget.
That’s bad. And the thing is, unlike The Drop and Warrior, Child 44 is a terrible movie. Adapted from the bestselling novel from British writer Tom Rob Smith and based on the real-life crimes of Andrei Chikatilo — also known as the Rostov Ripper, the Butcher of Rostov, and the Red Ripper — the movie isn’t as interested in the Ripper as it is in exploring Tom Rob Smith’s backdrop: Soviet-era politics.
Almost the entire first act is devoted to the relationship between Leo Demidov (Hardy), a member of the Soviet police, and Raisa (Noomi Rapace), the wife who reluctantly married him not out of love but out of fear of being killed for refusing the advances of a soldier. Raisa is fingered as a counterrevolutionary — because everyone is eventually fingered as for counterrevolutionary activities — and she is cast out to Volsk. Instead of turning on his wife, however, Leo vouches for her, and he, too, is cast out, and it’s in Volsk where they finally connect as equals.
Meanwhile, under the heavy cloud of suspicion that hovers over the Soviet Union, Leo stumbles upon a series of child murders. Because there’s no “murder in paradise,” however, no one is allowed to investigate the deaths of these young boys, lest they be accused to anti-revolutionary activities and be killed by the secret police. Leo and Raisa — who “feel dead already” anyway — take it upon themselves to find the killer, and thus begins the game of cat-and-mouse. Leo is chasing down the killer, and the Soviet machine — led by Joel Kinnaman’s Vasili — is chasing down Leo.
There are a lot of problems with Child 44, but chief among them is the decision by director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter Richard Price to take on too much. They attempt to condense the entire novel into a two-hour movie, and as a result, everything gets short shrift, except the part of the novel that was least interesting: The relationship between Leo and Raisa. Tom Rob Smith’s novel was a page-turning thriller; the movie is a muddled slog. It’s bleak and grim, and the indecipherable accents often make it difficult to follow along (had I not read the novel, I suspect I would’ve felt completely lost).
Worse, is that the centerpoint of the novel — the serial killer inspired by Andrei Chikatilo — is practically made an afterthought in the movie. He’s merely used as a device to expand on Soviet-era paranoia, which would’ve been fine if Espinosa had managed to generate more excitement in that storyline. But the characters are so lifeless, and their actions so rote, that it all comes off as a generic, boilerplate thriller designed for Redbox.
Ultimately, Child 44 is a boring mess of a film, a complete waste of a talented cast, and a missed opportunity to transform Tom Robb Smith’s novel into a Russian-set Silence of the Lambs or Soviet-era The Alienist. It’s a real говешка (piece of shit).