A whole heap of classy star power can’t save Daniel Espinosa’s adaptation of Tim Rob Smith’s popular novel, the cast instead flailing about in a hopelessly muddled, po-faced and occasionally accidentally hilarious thriller set in Stalinist Russia.
Tom Hardy plays Leo Demidov, a war hero turned policeman who's disillusioned with the brutality of his colleagues (Kinnaman’s Vasili among them) as they hunt perceived enemies of the State through Moscow. Bad enough that he’s party to institutional cruelty and summary execution, Leo’s life is about to become even more complicated when wife Raisa (Rapace) is accused of treachery and a young boy appears to have been murdered – a murder that cannot have happened given crime is a Western disease that doesn’t exist in Stalin’s ‘paradise’. Bottom line: Russia in the 50s was rubbish.
The main problem with this is just how much stuff is going on. The central plot of the child murders itself lacks cohesion, starting off as a whodunit then jarringly diving into a whydunit, and in conjunction with the ham-fisted political and social historical commentary, Raisa and Leo’s difficult relationship, and some tricky tonal shifts from dour procedural to action thriller (complete with dreadfully shot fight sequences), it becomes little more than one of many distractions. And everything is very perfunctorily put together, plodding from plot point to plot point with scant regard for dramatic zip or cinematic flair.
The performances are fine in isolation – Hardy’s vulnerable tough guy schtick is well suited to the role of Leo, Rapace is solidly angst-ridden and Oldman and Cassell have fun – but having them deliver some ear-stingingly ripe dialogue in comically thick Russian brogues in a film this self-serious is a misstep that somehow makes all the other flaws less forgivable. By the time you reach its manic, hysterical final confrontation, you’ve already found yourself emitting several stifled giggles. And in a movie concerned with political oppression, state-sanctioned torture on a massive scale and the slaying of 44 children, that’s a difficult thing for a filmmaker to accomplish.