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Child 44
  • Composed by Jon Ekstrand
  • Lakeshore Records / 2015 / 63m

Based on Tom Rob Smith’s popular novel, Child 44 is set in the Stalin-era Soviet Union and follows the investigation of a series of murders of children.  It’s got a poor critical reception and the main talking point has been the decision to ban it in Russia because it paints the country in a negative light.  It’s the second American film made by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (after Safe House), and this time he was allowed to bring his usual composer from back home Jon Ekstrand along with him.  His score opens with a lonesome violin solo over a twisted lullaby, developing into a rich classical-style piece and it’s an effective scene-setter, classy and evocative.  In the second cue, “There Is Only You”, the piano comes to the fore and there is a slightly more “Hollywood” feel to it.  Then the third main style is introduced in the brief “Searching for Brodsky”, choppy strings and percussion at the heart of the dark but accessible Bourne-ish action/suspense.

From those building blocks established early Ekstrand constructs the bulk of the most interesting parts of his score (with the action material coming much more to the fore in the score’s final third), punctuating explorations of them with considerably more subdued suspense music, which is rather too sombre to make particularly compelling listening away from the film.  I suspect that only somebody in a very particular type of mood would derive much from listening to the lengthy maudlin sequences, undoubtedly well done though they are, and that a more judiciously-programmed album would have much better served this music.  What Child 44 does have, in droves, is atmosphere.  The Slavic touches root it in a time and a place and the haunted, strained feeling throughout is impressively maintained; the much needed moments of light don’t come around very often but when they do, they’re handled well and don’t take away from the general feeling Ekstrand works so hard to create.  At half the length the almost constant doom and gloom could probably be tolerated more easily but it’s quite hard going to get through over an hour of it in one sitting.  Filed under “undoubtedly impressive but hard to imagine I’ll listen to it very often.”

Rating: *** | |

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