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Child 44 (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 137 minutes.

Not for children.

This is a tense thriller set in Soviet Russia in 1953. In a nutshell, because there are a lot of relationships in this film, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is a Soviet secret police agent who had become a national hero at the end of WWII whose wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), is accused of being a spy. When Leo is forced to investigate her and refuses to denounce her he is exiled to Volsk, a faraway provincial outpost (described as a “ghastly, dirty, filthy industrial sort of swamp”). There, he is under the supervision of General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman) who is less than friendly.

Thrown into the plot is a serial killer of young boys and Leo wants to track him down even though nobody else is interested. In fact, everyone seems to want him to stop his investigation, but he carries on at risk to his life and Raisa’s.

I cringed when I saw the runtime but the tension in this film never let up. Hardy gives a captivating performance as the conscientious Soviet cop. Rapace is one of the better actresses around and she gives her normal fine performance, as does Oldman.

Basically, this is the story of two decent people, Leo and Raisa, forced to survive in a godless, brutal, tyrannical society. They have to make compromises. One scene between Raisa and Leo is particularly telling.

Tightly directed with surprisingly good pace by Daniel Espinosa, this is from a script by Richard Price and based on a 1998 first novel by Tom Rob Smith of the same name, which was the first of a trilogy. The book, which won many awards, is based on a real person, a serial killer named Andrei Chikatilo, known as “The Butcher of Rostov,” who was convicted of murdering and mutilating 52 women in Soviet Russia in the early ‘50s.

Although set in Russia, the film was shot two years ago in the Czech republic in and around Prague. The cinematography (Oliver Wood) is exceptional, dark and forbidding. The tension is enhanced by Jon Ekstrand’s understated music.