Tag Archives: Russia

Movie Review: Child 44 (2015)

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I remember first seeing Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 in a bookstore, reading the back cover, and thinking to myself that the story will likely make a great movie. Stalinist Russia, a child killer on the loose — what’s there not to like?

Hollywood execs clearly agreed with me, and that’s why we now have the film adaptation of Child 44 by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), starring the always-brilliant Tom Hardy as an MGB officer at the center of the story. Playing his wife is the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, whom Hardy previously worked with on The Drop. Rounding out the superb cast are Robocop Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman and the ubiquitous Aussie Jason Clarke.

All the ingredients for a brilliant political mystery thriller are there, but for whatever reason, Child 44 turned out to be a mild disappointment. It’s one of those films where you keep watching intently, expecting it to get better and blow you away at any second, but all you end up doing is wait and wait and wait, until suddenly you realise it’s all over and none of your expectations were met. And that’s not a good feeling after you just sat through 137 minutes.

I sense that some of the blame must go to the story itself. It’s actually very misleading to market this film as being about the hunt for a child serial killer. In reality, Child 44 is a political thriller with a tangential child serial killer subplot. The “mystery” is something that’s always lingering in the background, something the film comes back to repeatedly, but is never the focal point. Instead, the vast majority of the film is about depicting the terror of Stalinist Russia — how you always need to keep an eye over your shoulder, how people and the state can turn on you at any second; never knowing who to trust; the constant fear and paranoia.

As for the killer? There’s never really a proper investigation. There’s no real mystery, no shocking revelations. It’s just some guy who suddenly shows up halfway through and is revealed to audiences as the killer. I also had some trouble understanding the motivations behind Hardy’s and Rapace’s characters wanting so badly to find the killer. They don’t even have children and they have enough life-and-death problems of their own to deal with. As a result it’s almost like the whole child killer thing is just a hook to suck people in. It’s a red herring.

That said, I shouldn’t be penalising Child 44 for not being the type of film I anticipated. On the plus side, it is quite effective in its depiction of that period of history, and Tom Hardy delivers a superb performance as the complex protagonist. I also wasn’t as distracted as some people have been by the Russian-accented English — or at least the varied attempts at it — as I accepted early on that it’s just something viewers have to live.

What fails the movie, however, is a lack of genuine intrigue and sustained tension. There are perhaps too many subplots, none of which manage to gather any momentum. It’s just not that interesting, a shocker considering that the book is considered to be a riveting page-turner. And that’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a compelling story buried in there somewhere.

On the whole, Child 44 isn’t terrible. It’s a solid production with strong performances, but it’s also quite a dull adaptation that is unable to bring out the most of the fascinating premise and whatever it is that made the book such a supposedly compulsive bestseller.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

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The Die Hard franchise has been on progressive decline since the 1988 original, which I still believe to this day is the best action movie of all time. The 1990 sequel, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, is a surprisingly excellent action flick in its own right, while the 1995  Die Hard With a Vengeance is a prime example of a fantastic franchise reboot. All three can be considered action classics. The series took a bigger step back with 2007’s Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free or Die Hard), where the 12-year gap had an unwelcome effect on the now-iconic John McClane, though it was still a relatively good movie. And now, the fifth and newest addition, A Good Day to Die Hard (let’s call it DH5 for simplicity sake), has fallen off the wagon and taken this great franchise down into the pits.

DH5 is not horrible by typical modern action movie standards, but it is a smear on the Die Hard franchise whichever way you look at it. In this one, John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to Russia to “rescue” his son Jack (played by Aussie Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for a murder linked to  an imprisoned political prisoner. Mayhem ensues, and this time the McClane father and son duo team up to annihilate the bad guys.

I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve with this plodding effort, which has a lot of guns and explosions and cars flying all over the place, but not much real tension, humour or genuine excitement. Perhaps they were trying to emulate the awesomeness of Taken or the Bourne series (ie, an unstoppable good guy beats up a lot of bad guys), which I believe is a huge mistake.

The earlier Die Hard films featured a reluctant, vulnerable McClane caught in situations he didn’t want to be in, which is why they were so full of tension and nervous energy. In the last two of the series, however, John McClane has ceased to be the old John McClane we know and love. He has become the “new” John McClane, some kind of hardened superhero who never gets rattled or hurt no matter how many times he is tossed around in moving metal, beaten up or dropped from ridiculously high places. He has too much cache from past experiences to be vulnerable. He’s like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable without the fear of water.

As a result, the DH5 is generally predictable (even with the twists) and frequently lame. Even though there’s all this stuff happening on the screen, there’s just no excitement because you know he’s John McClane and John McClane can never be beaten. Worst still, this new McClane has no special hand-to-hand combat skills like say a Jason Bourne or Bryan Mills — he’s just a guy who likes to fire a lot of guns and doesn’t get hit himself.

Part of the problem is the direction of John Moore, who was previously at the helm of Max Payne and the remake of The Omen in 2006. We also had the “new” John McClane in DH4 (directed by Len Wiseman from the Underworld series), but that film was still pretty good, so some of the blame has to go to Moore, who let his foot off the gas pedal too often and relied far too much on obvious digital effects in many of the action sequences.

The biggest culprit is likely the script by Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The A-Team), which is not very good at all. The dialogue is horrendous in both English and Russian and the attempts at creating some sort of father-son dynamic between the McClanes come off as clunky and out of place, largely because it feels so obligatory. McClane’s wry humour and one-liners, one of the defining traits of his character, is almost non-existent as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are efforts to lighten the mood, but they rarely felt like they meshed with the flow of the film.

The Die Hard franchise has always stretched the bounds of craziness, but a lot of what happens in DH5 is just plain lazy. Why don’t people bleed to death from untreated gun shots and puncture wounds? Why do Russian people who generally speak Russian to each other feel the need to squeeze in a sentence of English every now and then? Why do they suddenly start speaking completely in English  towards the end? Why do some of their Russian accents even start disappearing? Why does Jack McClane have to say his dad’s name, “John”, at least once every sentence? We know his name is John; we’ve known that for the last four films! Who the heck talks like that?

Bruce Willis is still good enough to pull off John McClane, but I can’t help get the feeling that he’s growing a little weary and is ready to pass the baton to Jai Courtney, who is physically imposing but looks more like a bad guy than a good one (he was the bad guy in Jack Reacher and felt much more convincing). The rest of the cast is predominantly Russian and none are memorable. None even come close to possessing the charisma of a Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman from the original) or even a Simon Peter Gruber (Jeremy Irons from the third film), let’s just put it that way. That’s another problem to add to the list — lame antagonists.

When all is said and done, DH5 is actually a passable action film by ordinary standards, but a criminally bad one when measured against the lofty bar set by the earlier entries in the same franchise. It’s a real shame because I think they could have done much much better, especially if they are considering bringing together John McClane and both of his kids (that’s Jai Courtney and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the latter of whom has a cameo in this one after appearing in DH4) in a sixth and potentially final Die Hard film.

2.5 stars out of 5