Monday 20 April 2015

Review: Child 44

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay: Richard Price
Starring: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel

Synopsis is here:

I often find myself getting into conversations of adaptation, with a good friend of mine whose and avid consumer of books and film. Our talks usually debate about how a film can keep hold of the book's spirit. It can never be the book. It’s not that medium, nor should it aspire to be. Not every element can make the translation. Filmmakers must traipse through the difficult task of pruning and trimming in order to gain the right fruits for the film to bear. Child 44 is a film in which clearly somebody wanted all the fruits to grow. Due to this there’s far much to pick. It is then when we yield rotten berries.

A telling review of the novel by Angus Macqueen, hints the story’s commercial aspirations, but also describes the writer Tom Rob Smith’s desire to encompass so much of Stalin’s Russia into the fiction, that it becomes difficult to take the book too seriously. While I cannot fully pass judgement on the novel. I can say that it’s hard not to feel similarly about the film.

Child 44 is quite simply a thriller that doesn’t thrill. It alludes to richness by placing forth a multitude of sub-plots, but does little to give them decent resolutions. It suggests relationships with depth, but does little to build on them. The film suffers from the same irritation that comes with Michael Bay’s Transformer Movies, in which length is believed to be a decent substitute for scale. The film's setting and historical background should provide intrigue. Yet this is clouded by drab conversations in dubious faux Russian accents and multiple scenes which grind the pace of the film to halt. Moments which should be revelations, never build to the vital discoveries the film purports them to be. This is mainly because the film never allows such moments to breathe. The elements of the overstuffed narrative come across just as cumbersome as the films clunky action set pieces. The film’s climax ends up in a muddy quagmire, which amused me, as this is how I felt about the piece in general.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Easy Money) is more than capable of crafting taut, commercial thrillers. Safe House (2012) is a solid example of that. Here, however, his talents seemed bogged down by a predictable screenplay (a rare misfire from scribe Richard Price), which holds a truckload of moving parts. Despite the valiant efforts of its brooding cast, so many of the film's characters feel on the periphery of the narrative. There’s a nagging feeling that one or two players had more moments left on the cutting room floor. Then again, this could have made Child 44 possibly longer. Which for myself, could have been more torture than being sent to a gulag. A contrived line? Perhaps. But no more than what Child 44 deserves. For the same price of a ticket, you could purchase Fritz Lang’s excellent M (1931) on Blu Ray, which not only deals with similar issues better, but is nearly 30 minutes shorter. The value of economy, eh?