Life in postwar Russia was brutal. Stalin’s Soviets were cracking down on dissidents. Food was in short supply and the winters were punishing. Worst of all, everyone went around speaking in weird pidgin English, with phlegm-clogged voices like they’d just gargled a mouthful of rice pudding. Tough times.
‘Child 44’ is a striking example of how a single, wrongheaded choice can doom an entire movie. Based on Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling crime novel, the film follows Leo (Tom Hardy), a Communist Party activist. His investigation into a series of killings alarms his superiors, who insist that murder doesn’t exist in the new Russia. Demoted and packed off to a work camp with his wife (Noomi Rapace), Leo finds himself unable to let the case go.
‘Child 44’ has no excuse for being this bad. Hardy and Rapace are fine actors, and they’re backed by a remarkable supporting cast including Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Charles Dance, Jason Clarke and Paddy Considine. Given the setting and subject matter, the stage should have been set for a diverting Sunday afternoon thriller.
But as soon as anyone opens their mouth, the film is reduced to laughable farce. Hardy comes off worst, risking complete tonsil failure as he barks and gulps like a demented sea lion (it doesn’t help that he keeps breaking into actual Russian for no apparent reason). But thanks to a feeble script, bland direction and – God, why? – those impenetrable accents, no one emerges from this fiasco with much dignity.