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This muddled Cold War thriller is saved by its star-studded cast

MoviesBy Esther McCarthy
Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in Child 44
Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace in Child 44

THERE’S a powerful story at the heart of this drama set around the jittery politics of 1950s Russia. But there are real problems in its execution.

A big-name cast, led by hot British actor Tom Hardy, have signed up for director Daniel Espinosa’s mystery thriller. But the storytelling’s so muddled and the script so patchy that at times it’s hard to stay with the multi-layered plot. 
 
However, a universally fine cast manages to keep you engaged. 
 
Hardy is excellent as Leo Demidov, the charismatic secret police agent trying to make a name and a career for himself. But this is Moscow in the 1950s, where many are treated with suspicion and even close colleagues can’t completely be trusted. 
 
And when his peers become suspicious that Leo’s wife, Raisa (Rapace), may be a political traitor, his determination to defend her leads to his demotion and puts their marriage under strain. 
 
Posted out of Moscow, to a grim northern town, the couple begin to investigate a possible link between the disappearances of a number of young boys — one of them a family friend whose death was listed as an accident. 
 
Their quest puts them on the radar of a top general (Oldman), who thinks there is credence to their claims. But they meet fierce resistance from Leo’s former bosses, who are convinced they’re causing unnecessary trouble for their own political gain. 
 
As the plot synopsis suggests, Child 44 suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Part murder mystery, part political thriller, part marital drama, the story moves from one element to the next, not always pulling off its big ambitions. 
 
At times it’s a somewhat clumsy adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s acclaimed novel and the uneven Russian accents from the cast also serve to hinder the pace.  
 
For all its flaws, the movie somehow manages to build into a decent mystery thriller in the second hour. 
 
Hardy, Rapace and Oldman work very well together, while even smaller characters in supporting roles are given enough to work with. It’s a pity there are so many sub-plots in the first hour, and that the overlong movie didn’t cut out some of the excess flab during the scriptwriting stage. 
 
Verdict: Good performances from Oldman and Hardy but the plot gets a little complex (3/5).