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.
The twists and turns in this movie also appear in so many current films that come to the same concluding theme: nothing is as it seems….The Drop was adapted from a short story by Dennis Lehane, the writer of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Lehane’s short story was entitled, Animal Rescue, which allows for one of the more refreshing twists I’ve seen in a movie lately.
The story involves the use of a dog in the framework of the film. One of my pet peeves is the awful cliché in films where the dog dies off-screen and we hear the obligatory aarf or find the animal lying dead as a portent of doom. This one works against the awful type. Although it’s not a huge spoiler for the plot, this one is simply refreshing in that the puppy that is used as a plot device, and is the basis for the short story upon which the film is derived, is not seen or used in the same, tired mold as so many canines that have gone before.
The twists and turns in this one are something we see as a slow moving train wreck. We know that violence is bubbling up as it simmers beneath the surface throughout. Although there is some violence displayed, it is understated for the most part and not used to propel the plot into oblivion. That is another pet peeve of mine in modern films. There is so much gunfire, and so many bodies flying in martial arts mode in films, we don’t ever soak up dialogue or develop character. The plot just moves (or plods) along.
James Gandolfini fills in the gaps in this other-wise quiet film. He supplies humor where it is needed, and is the lynchpin for the premise of this gangster-themed film. The action occurs when a robbery takes place at the bar where Bob ( Tom Hardy) and his Cousin Marv (Gandolfini) work. The robbers make off with money belonging to the Chechnyan mob guys. They, naturally, want their money back.
The story revolves around the mob and the threat of violence against Bob & Marv, but also includes Bob’s new-found friendship with Nadia. The two meet when he rescues a puppy from her trash-can late one night. They form a friendship around the care of the animal, while Bob continues to plod through his workdays at the bar. The Drop is the bar itself, used as a money-laundering station for the mob. The Drop is also a metaphor for the slowly simmering undercurrents surrounding the two men from the bar and the underclass of bad guys closing in on them. When the other shoe drops, we are not completely surprised. It’s a relief when the circle begins to close.
James Gandolfini creates a fitting end to his celebrated career that soared with his spot-on portrayal of the mob boss in The Sopranos. Tom Hardy is one of the most interesting actors working today. His British accent is lost in the Bronx twang he adopts for this part. Bob is a slow-moving, slow-talking and methodical thinker. The pace of the movie deliberately follows him along the trail of a methodology which arrives at the correct conclusion within the necessary time and space. Although this one is too violent for the whole family, it’s a good start to a fall line-up after a summer of terrifically mediocre films.