Tom Hardy is at the centre of an ambitious thriller from Daniel Espinosa
'There can be no murder in paradise.' That's the intriguing backbone of both Tom Rob Smith’s 2008 bestseller and this solid adaptation from Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Easy Money), which casts Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov, a battle-hardened member of the military police in Stalin-era Soviet Union. He's blindly devoted to both his country and wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace), loyalties that are severely tested when Raisa is accused of being a spy. After the couple's departure from Moscow they investigate a series of child killings that have gone unacknowledged by the state.
Smith’s book has been capably condensed by veteran crime screenwriter Richard Price (Ransom, The Wire) who, after a brisk race through history to establish Demidov’s strength of character, sensibly focuses on the murder mystery at the heart of the story. Demidov's determination to solve this horrifying case drives the film and, in the process, he evolves from a man confident in the black-and-white morality of Stalinism to one forced to confront the grey areas of humanity.
Hardy is excellent, his mix of strength and compassion giving genuine depth to a character who could simply have been a figurehead for the march of change. Rapace is also great, playing the initially dutiful wife who soon reveals herself to be a woman of considerable fortitude, and who plays an active role in Demidov's attempts to reveal the truth. Robust support is provided by a cast that includes Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and Vincent Cassel, even if most of the accents waver. That this is a struggle as personal as it is political is underscored by Oliver Wood's stunning cinematography, which captures Demidov's journey from the sweeping ravages of war to the oppressive opulence of success and the confines of exile, with every scene viewed through the miasma of suspicion and paranoia.
It packs a little too much in but this is a pleasingly pulpy thriller which also passes effective comment on the horrors of life in a country where original thought was treason. Child 44 is ambitious, striking and gloriously gripping.
General release from Fri 17 Apr.