A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Child 44 is a book-based thriller set in 1950s Soviet Russia about a disgraced secret police agent who goes hunting for a child murderer. There's lots of brutal violence, including shooting and stabbing (with accompanying blood spurts), fighting, a woman being slapped and smacked, suicide (via stepping in front of a train), self-torture, injections, and recurring images of murdered children. Many characters grew up as orphans; in one scene, children in an orphanage beat and kick another child. Characters use words including "f--k" and "s--t" frequently, and a married couple has passionless sex (nothing graphic is shown); they're also seen kissing. Characters frequently smoke cigarettes (accurate for the era), and one drinks a glass of vodka.
What's the story?
In the 1950s in Soviet Russia, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) works as a secret police agent, hunting for enemies of the state. Some children's bodies are discovered, including the son of one of Leo's colleagues, but they're all written off as accidents, since a murderer on the loose in the Soviets' "perfect" society would look bad. When Leo's wife, schoolteacher Raisa (Noomi Rapace), is named and Leo refuses to denounce her, they're both sent into exile. There, more dead children are found, and Leo starts working with General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman) to find the killer. Unfortunately, being out in the open puts Leo and Raisa at great risk.
Is it any good?
Based on Tom Rob Smith's novel, CHILD 44 is a thriller with no thrills. It's too long, too dreary, and too overly serious. It's supposed to feel like a period piece set in another culture, but the by-the-numbers English-language dialogue and the sneering, one-dimensional bad guys make it seem more like a Hollywood dress-up party. It has no concept of place or time.
Hardy's gorilla-like screen presence and variety-show Russian accent almost threaten to add a little fun to the proceedings, but director Daniel Espinosa squashes it before it has a chance. Likewise, Oldman is fine, but he's cast in an almost inconsequential role. Rapace struggles between her passive role and a few fight scenes in which she punches back and breaks character. And, frankly, no matter what else happens, the recurring images of dead, murdered children in a third-rate thriller like this put a huge damper on anything that might have been entertaining or informative.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Child 44's violence. How does the violence help tell this particular story? Is it thrilling or shocking? How did the movie achieve this effect? How does it compare to what you've seen in other thrillers? What impact does the historical setting have on how the violence affects you?
How does the movie depict life in Soviet Russia in the 1950s? What are the pros and cons?
Characters smoke fairly regularly in this movie. What do we know about smoking today that we didn't know back then?
One of the movie's running themes is that "there's no murder in paradise." What does this mean?
Another running theme is that several of the characters grew up orphaned. What does it mean to be an orphan? How are the characters affected by this?
- In theaters: April 17, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: August 4, 2015
- Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman
- Director: Daniel Espinosa
- Studios: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: History
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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