A sumptuous period thriller encompassing themes of power, love, betrayal and murder, “Child 44” is novelist Tom Rob Smith’s fictionalized version of the grisly case that was met with resounding critical and popular acclaim upon publication in 1998. Real-life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, also known as “The Butcher of Rostov,” was convicted of murdering and mutilating 52 women and children in Soviet Russia in the early 1950s.
Winner of the Crime Writers Association’s CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award and translated into 26 languages, “Child 44” became the first in a trilogy that now includes “The Secret Speech” and “Agent 6.” “The great thing about detective stories and police investigations is they soak up a lot of the society in which they take place,” Smith says. “If you want to understand a world, take a look at the way the police work in that country.”
“Child 44” continued to be translated to screen, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Daniel Espinosa where the filmmakers saw an opportunity to blend visceral action sequences with psychologically nuanced character arcs against a rich historic tapestry.
A politically-charged serial killer thriller set in 1953 Soviet Russia, “Child 44” chronicles the crisis of conscience for secret police agent Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), who loses status, power and home when he refuses to denounce his own wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), as a traitor. Exiled from Moscow to a grim provincial outpost, Leo and Raisa join forces with General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman) to track down a serial killer who preys on young boys. Their quest for justice threatens a system-wide cover-up enforced by Leo’s psychopathic rival Vasili (Joel Kinnaman), who insists “There is no crime in Paradise.”
To anchor an adventure of such grand historical scope, the filmmakers needed an actor capable of handling the script’s demanding emotional and physical range, from quiet dramatic moments to brutal action sequences. They also needed someone who could subtly express the protagonist’s inner conflicts as he struggles to find his humanity in an inhuman situation.
They found their Leo Demidov in British actor Tom Hardy. Regarded as one of the most charismatic talents of his generation, Hardy impressed moviegoers as a violent convict in Bronson, then broke through to a global audience with his portrayal of the evil Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. More recently he earned both critical and popular acclaim for his role as a Brooklyn bartender with a dark secret in The Drop. Hardy says he was attracted to the project by the moral complexity of his character—and the script as a whole.
If politics are ultimately personal, then “Child 44” can be seen as a cautionary tale from a nightmarish chapter of history: tyrannical political cultures stifle fundamentally decent people with tragic results
“Child 44” opens exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas nationwide starting April 29 from Pioneer Films.