Gloomy serial killer film slowly kills audience interest

Gloomy serial killer film slowly kills audience interest

‘Child 44’

Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace

Directed by: Daniel Espinosa

Rated: R


From the bestselling novel by Tom Rob Smith based on the real serial killer known as the Butcher of Rostov, this post-war Russian thriller is as grim and depressing as they come. Even with a cast that boasts an impressive pedigree and with Ridley Scott backing the production directed by Daniel Espinosa, this is mired as much in history as it is in the subject matter.

Set in 1953, the opening provides a brief history lesson going back 20 years during Stalin’s dictatorship about the many orphans left in the wake of his collective farming policies that led to the great famine. One of those orphans is Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) who, after distinguishing himself during World War II, rises to the top echelon of the Russian secret police.

But in the paranoid atmosphere of that era, Leo and his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) can’t avoid getting caught up in a trumped-up charge courtesy of an ambitious colleague, Vasili (played by Joel Kinnaman). Demoted and sent to an industrial town, Leo stumbles into what looks like a serial killer at work that may be linked to the murder of his best friend’s son back in Moscow. He convinces his new boss (Gary Oldman) to begin an investigation, but the problem is that the mantra in Stalin’s regime is “There is no murder in paradise.”

The “trust no one” atmosphere is oppressive in this movie. Even the cinematography is dingy and the sets are vintage post-war Russia — sparse and grungy. Hardy, who has worked with Oldman in four movies and in last year’s “The Drop” with Rapace, captures the thick Russian accent and the stoic demeanor of a character who is loathe to reveal a more humane code of ethics that is not necessarily in harmony with that of his superiors.

Most of the cast members get a moment to shine, but some just barely. Jason Clarke appears briefly as a dissident in an extraneous plot line that seems designed to reinforce the ruthlessness of the secret police. Charles Dance of “Game of Thrones” fame makes a cameo appearance in the film’s final moments.

As grimly intriguing as this is, particularly knowing it’s based on Andrei Chikatilo, who murdered over 50 women and children over the span of two decades before being convicted and put to death in the early ’90s, this already overly long film moves at a glacial pace. The actors slog through scene after scene without gaining a lot of ground as Leo inches closer to the killer. The setbacks in the investigation are numerous — a little too numerous to maintain interest.

Espinosa does do an excellent job of recreating the environment of that period. “Dark, depressing and hopeless” only begins to describe it, and as if to drive home the point, not one character even so much as cracks as smile.

Cheer up, comrades. It’s just a movie.