Citizen X DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by HBO Home Video
Directed by Chris Gerolmo
Written by Chris Gerolmo, based on The Killer Department by Robert Cullen
1995, Region 1 (NTSC), 102 Minutes, Rated R
DVD released on July 11th, 2000
Stephen Rea as Viktor Burakov
Donald Sutherland as Colonel Fetisov
Max von Sydow as Bukhanovsky
Jeffrey DeMunn as Andrei Chikatilo
Joss Ackland as Bondarchuk
“8 years. 52 victims. 1 killer … Based on a true story.”
A farmer is plowing his field when he notices a face staring up at him from a shallow grave. This is how the movie introduces the handiwork of one of Russia’s first documented serial killers, Andrei Chikatilo (Jeffrey DeMunn – The Majestic, The Green Mile, The X-Files).
The body is delivered to Viktor Burakov (Stephen Rhea – Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, FearDotCom), the new forensics expert for the region. Burakov quickly determines that while the body was found in a field, the person died in the forest. He immediately orders his assistant, Federenko, to search the forest for evidence. Although Fedrenko protests it’s already after 5:00PM, Viktor demands he go anyway. Four hours later, the assistant returns with seven more bodies. All children.
After spending all night performing autopsies on the young victims, it is apparent that it is the work of a serial killer. Viktor reports his findings to a committee (made up of politicians and military leaders) and they not only scoff at the idea of a Russian serial killer (“that’s a Western phenomena”), but they also refuse Burakov’s requests for more men, computers, help from the FBI and publicity. Viktor’s immediate boss, Colonel Fetisov (Donald Sutherland – The Italian Job, Space Cowboys), explains why the requests will not be fill and it is a sad look into how the Communist Party thought.
Too make matters worse, the only person who has the ability to help Viktor with his investigation is Colonel Fetisov. However, the Colonel is too tied up in his own political world to be of any aid to Viktor. Yet, Fetisov’s eagerness to help does take an about face around the middle of the movie. Part of his new attitude may have been from a conversation he and Viktor have in which Viktor says, “A man is what he fights for.”
“I don't fight for anything,” replies the Colonel.
“I know,” says Viktor in resignation.
So goes eight years of hell and politics for Viktor Burakov.
This is one of the most frustrating movies I have ever seen. It’s not the ‘hard to watch’ type of frustrating like the last scenes of Chasing Amy. It’s more of a "What the hell? How can this get worse?" type of frustration. Here you have a killer who preys on children and the detective assigned to stop the killer is turned down at every corner for no good reason.
Within a few days from the start of the investigation, Burakov has determined Chikatilo finds his victims at train stations. What do the politicians do? Well, since they feel it’s a waste of manpower to stake out train stations, they instead have attention focused on ‘sexual deviants’ such as *gasp* homosexuals! Nothing like pride, ignorance and prejudice in the way of a serial child killer investigation.
Also, to make matters worse, Chikatilo was in custody within two years of the discovery of the first body. Yet due to a mistake and a little help from the powers that be, Chikatilo was released and continued his killing spree for an additional six years! You have to love those with political power.
Unlike most “based on a true story’ serial killer dramas, Citizen X focuses more on the investigation and investigator as opposed to the killer. This is a nice change because it really shows the dedication and drive Viktor possessed as opposed to the killer just evading the police. The movie even loosely touches on why Chikatilo killed. Don’t expect an in-depth analysis on Chikatilo, but you do get the idea his life is pretty messed up and depressing.
The performances in Citizen X were outstanding and rival most big budget Hollywood movies. For some reason Donald Sutherland as the Colonel stands out in my mind the most. Maybe it is because I am a big fan of Sutherland’s work or maybe it is Sutherland did such an amazing job at playing a man who wants to do good, but does not know how. Every time Donald was on screen, you could tell he was a frustrated man whose hands were tied and although it was never vocalized, he was frustrated because he could not do more to help Rea’s character. In my opinion, this was one of Sutherland’s best works.
Next, Stephen Rea’s performance as Viktor was just as powerful. Rea made you feel the pain of Viktor every time the phone rang signifying another body was found. Rea made you feel the anger of Viktor every time a request was denied or another wall of red tape was put in front of him. Rea made you feel the resignation of Viktor he felt no one was on his team and ready to bat for him. I have rarely seen someone look so defeated on camera and make me feel just as defeated and frustrated. Stephen Rea pulled off a hell of a performance in this movie.
Before I get to the last couple stand out performances, I feel something should be mentioned about Rea’s and Sutherland’s on screen synergy. Brilliant. Every time Rea and Sutherland are together there is an unseen energy surrounding these two. On one hand, the Colonel is supposed to support Burakov, but cannot due to red tape. On the other, Viktor tries to respect the Colonel, but cannot due to the lack of support from him. Gradually things change for the better between the two and it is amazing to watch the transition from two very tense characters to two characters that have a mutual respect for one another. It’s rare when two actors work so well against, and with, each other that you can tell how one feels for the other without any words spoken.
Now, back on track, is Jeffrey DeMunn as Andrei Chikatilo. While Citizen X is obviously about Chikatilo, he’s almost a back-story because, as I’ve said before, the movie focuses more on Viktor. However, DeMunn does such a great job as the murderer, you almost, and I say almost, feel sympathy for Chikatilo because of the life he leads. DeMunn really shows what a weak and troubled person Chikatilo was.
Finally, although he is not in the movie very much at all, Max von Sydow leaves a hell of an impact as Dr. Bukhanovsky, the psychiatrist brought in the case to help. Sydow is brilliant, as usual, as the incredibly nervous, yet excitable, psychiatrist who plays a major role in cracking the Citizen X case wide open. However, this should be no surprise as von Sydow rarely disappoints.
Video and Audio:
Citizen X is presented in it’s OAR of 4:3 full frame. This movie was originally made for HBO; therefore it was not intended to be widescreen. While the picture itself is crisp, there are quite a few noticeable artifacts throughout the movie. The artifacts were quite a disappointment considering the print is not that old. For example, the special edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is artifact free and that movie is almost thirty years old. Inexcusable.
You can hear Citizen X in either Spanish Mono or English 2.0 Dolby Surround. There are a few scenes were the sound is used well, but for the most part the movie doesn’t really need a full blown audio presentation. I did not notice any highs, lows or drops. The audio is about average and it gets the job done.
Oh lookie, we have a cast and crew bio. Whoopty doo. Who doesn’t have access to IMDB? HBO produced this movie and they didn’t have access to one of those 7 – 13 minute ‘behind the scenes’ shorts that they seem to do for every damn DVD now? They couldn’t put a documentary about the killer on the DVD? No one was available for a commentary? Shame on you HBO.
Regardless of the special features and video, you should buy this movie. I could continue to praise Citizen X, but the bottom line is the movie is an outstanding piece of work that is highly rewatchable. HBO has always done a great job with their made for TV movies and this is no exception.