A movie review of “Child 44”: This is an underwhelming affair about child murders in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. Rating 1.5 stars out of 4.

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The best-selling novel “Child 44” by Tom Rob Smith runs well over 400 pages, and that’s perhaps the first hint as to why the movie based on it seems to veer in 40 different directions.

It’s a political movie. It’s a war film. It’s a crime thriller. And suddenly, late in the proceedings, it becomes an action movie. At 137 minutes, the movie’s also a good half-hour too long.

Ultimately, what we have is a bloated, grim, underwhelming affair, which is unfortunate — because the movie starts out with a lot going for it. Besides the popular source material and the compelling backdrop of fear and repression in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, the film has an excellent cast starring the always interesting Tom Hardy as a self-questioning military hero, intelligence operative and amateur gumshoe.

Movie Review ★½  

‘Child 44,’ with Tom Hardy, Vincent Cassel, Noomi Rapace. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, from a screenplay by Richard Price, based on a novel by Tom Rob Smith. 137 minutes. Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality. Several theaters.

After a sad prologue from his boyhood, we meet Leo Demidov (Hardy) in World War II Berlin. We then jump to 1953; Demidov is an officer in the MGB, the Soviet intelligence agency (and KGB forerunner), tasked with tracking down traitors.

Things turn difficult for Demidov when his MGB boss (Vincent Cassel) orders him to investigate Demidov’s own wife (Noomi Rapace).

At the same time, Demidov has hit on something disturbing: The young son of a colleague has been killed by the train tracks.

Boys keep getting killed by train tracks — this is where the number 44 comes from — and the movie keeps toggling between being a political history film and a detective story.

“Child 44” is the first in a trilogy. Should the filmmakers pursue the other installments, hopefully they’ll leave more on the editing- room floor.