Child 44: Looking for a murderer in Paradise

Child 44

Reminiscent at times of the 1983 Film Gorky Park , Child 44 is another thriller set in Russia. This one is set in the oppressive Stalinist era that existed after World War II. Tom Hardy stars as a man who was raised to be loyal to the militaristic and oppressive regime of Joseph Stalin. From the beginning, his loyalty is tested. First, with the notion that “there is no such thing as murder in Paradise.” This is the ironic motto under which the police and military must operate. Later, when Hardy’s character, Leo, is asked to betray his wife, he must choose where his loyalty truly lies.

Like The Handmaids Tale, the characters operate in a dystopian atmosphere, therefore everyone behaves within the framework of an Orwellian state of being. Murder and torture are committed routinely by the ruling authorities in order to keep the citizens in line. In this environment, Leo is determined to unravel the identity of a man who is killing children. The total number of deaths is 44, hence the title: Child 44. But keeping with the mindset that there are no murders allowed to exist in Stalin’s Russia, the notion of finding a child murderer is a heavy lift. Based on the novel of the same name, the overall pace of the film feels dark, and the tone is suitably oppressive

There are some plot points to quibble over. The James Bond method of doing away with the protagonist makes one ask, “Why not simply shoot him?” But the plot does manage to wrap the ends up at a slow but steady pace. Perhaps a slightly shorter running time (it runs 2 hours 17 minutes) might have increased the pace.

Noomi Rapace, seen with Hardy in last year’s excellent film, , pairs again with him as his wife, Raisa. She is an effective foil for Leo’s determined and steadfast character who is fixated on learning the truth. Gary Oldman seems slightly under-utilized as General Nesterov, Leo’s skeptical and eventually supportive superior officer. All in all, the film features a good cast and an uneven screenplay, which makes for an interesting, but not overly exciting thriller.

Capsule Review: Non-Stop

Liam Neeson 2014The generous critique will allow the plot is implausible. The more hardened critic will simply dismiss this film as a non-starter. There’s ample reason for this. This is not a memorable film.
But Liam Neeson always manages to pull something out of the wreckage (not even trying for a pun here). In the rather confusing final scenes of the film, Neeson manages to act in a way true to his vulnerable yet hardened character once again and project his acting chops into the scene.
Nowhere has Stallone or Schwarzenegger, Eastwood or Bruce Willis been able to transpose this softer and more vulnerable caricature onto their standard action-hero model. But with Neeson, the melding is effortless. He has managed to inject a sense of moral duty and higher realm of existential hopelessness into most of his boiler-plate action hero models.
In this case, it’s not quite enough to make sense of a senseless plot. However, there is some method to the madness when watching Neeson act that seems to be missing in so many of the action heroes these days. There lies the difference.

The theme of “Gravity”

Gravity 2013The theme of the film is isolation. Alfonso Cuaron, the Mexican director who previously did, “Children of Men” is interested in exploring futures where almost all hope is lost. The premise begins with a space walk gone bad, which is a plausible enough scenario to bring realism to this science-fiction story.

George Clooney plays his supporting role with a spot-on insouciance that suits him well. His devil-may-care attitude is balanced by the sharply serious “gravity” of Bullock’s character. When the situation turns dire, the theme of isolation is a constant.

The isolation that defines deep space, and some of the surreal elements of complete separation from all aspects of life as we know it are shown as the underlying subjects of this movie. There is action, and intense drama at times that remind us of some of the most basic requirements of all good story-telling. There is the drama of man vs nature and man vs himself, and these are enough to hold us in our seats to see how it all plays out.

Bullock is the unquestionable star of the piece, as she must hold our attention through the greater part of the film. We are reminded of some of the better space dramas that play out, but in the end, this film has more in common with Stephen Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat.” Those who have read it may remember that even though the survivors are alive in an open boat on the sea, there is still grave doubt as to their survival.

The reason “The Open Boat” comes to mind is the fact that we are left wondering exactly what did happen in the latter part of all this. We are left to wonder where the storied elements blend with realism to create a real or imagined end. That is very much a trademark of Cuaron’s direction, as we watch the “gravity” of the events unfold.

Casablanca: Who wrote what? An excerpt from upcoming “Six Degrees of Film”


Script authorship of Casablanca also was disputed, only this time it was writer versus writer who vied for the lone credits. Someone said about this B movie classic, “One of the charms of Casablanca lies in its awkwardness. Not only do the politics and romance sit side by side, but that there are two or three contrasting manners of style. There’s the comic-cynical, the soppy-elegiac, and the solemn-propagandist … [It’s] not so much a story as a stringing together of great moments to remember. How, and in what order we remember them is left to us, and this is part of why we like the film so much.”[i]

Four authors claim to be the true author of Casablanca. There is Howard Koch, who claimed he was brought in “to shape the film’s politics”; the brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, who wrote as a team; and Casey Robinson. Robinson said that he had the idea for a film “out of a ‘lousy play’ called Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”

According to Koch, the story was, “So they start shooting and Hal comes to me and says, ‘We need some help. There’s a little trouble.’ Bogart had said, ‘I won’t shoot this __________’; and he had used a very nasty word and gone home.”

Ingrid Bergman on the Casablanca shoot said this: “Every day, we were shooting off the cuff; every day they were handing out dialogue, and we were trying to make sense of it. No one knew where the picture was going, and no one knew how it was going to end … We said, “Well, who are we?” … and Curtiz would say, “We’re not quite sure … It was ridiculous. Just awful … Bogart didn’t know what was going on, so he retired to his trailer … I wanted to know who I was supposed to be in love with, Paul Henreid or Humphrey Bogart?”[ii]

The Epstein brothers had gone on to another project for Frank Capra and were not available, so they sent the script in from Washington page by page. Two scripts were floating around, one from the Epsteins and one from Howard Koch. Robinson was brought in to add the love-interest angle. It was apparent that “none of them knew he was working on a movie that would turn out to be something to boast about; all the signs were that Casablanca would be a stinker.”[iii]

The facts are this: The film used some lines from the play, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, including the line “Then play it, Sam” and the song As Time Goes By. The irony was that Julius Epstein was not proud of his part in scripting Casablanca. He called it “slick shit,” and said, “Casablanca is one of my least favorite pictures. I’m tired of talking about it after thirty years. I can explain its success only by the Bogie cult … I can recognize that the picture is entertaining and that people love it. The whole thing was shot in the back lot. Furthermore, there were never any such things as letters of transit around which the entire plot revolved. The movie is completely phony.”[iv]

[i] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[ii] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[iii] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[iv] Mank: The wit, world, and life of Herman Mankiewicz, Meryman, Richard, Morrow, 1978