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HBO presents
Citizen X (1995)

"There are no serial killers in the Soviet state. It is a decadent, Western phenomenon."
- Bondarchuk (Joss Ackland)

Review By: Justin Stephen   
Published: September 14, 2000

Stars: Stephen Rea, Donald Sutherland, Jeffrey DeMunn
Other Stars: Joss Ackland, Max von Sydow, John Wood
Director: Chris Gerolmo

MPAA Rating: R for strong, graphic violence and related language
Run Time: 01h:42m:58s
Release Date: July 11, 2000
UPC: 026359118524
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-NA D+

DVD Review

Citizen X, an HBO® original film first aired in 1995, tells the story of the hunt for one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history. Andrei Chikatilo, a seemingly mild-mannered Soviet factory worker, murdered no less than 52 people (many believe the actual toll was over 100) between the years 1982 and 1990, when he was finally captured. Of his 52 known victims, 37 were boys and girls under the age of 17. As disturbing as the sheer number and age-range of the victims are, the manner of their death is equally gruesome. Chikatilo did most of his handy work with a kitchen knife, often stabbing his victims dozens of times, sometimes removing the victims eyes and usually mutilating their sexual organs.

As the film opens we meet Burakov (Rea), a newly assigned forensics investigator with the Rostov oblast (oblast is similar to "province") militia. When a badly weathered body of a young murder victim is brought to him, he requests that the surrounding woods be searched. This search yields seven more bodies, all showing almost identical patterns of mutilation. Bukarov is well within his element as he examines the corpses and quickly comes to the conclusion that a serial killer is prowling the countryside, preying on children. However, circumstances soon thrust Burakov well out of his element. First he is scolded by the local head of the Communist Party for even daring to suggest that a serial killer could even exist within the Soviet state. Soon after, he is placed in charge of the investigation into these murders by his new boss, Colonel Fetisov (Sutherland).

Citizen X chronicles the eight-year hunt for this ferocious killer, who cruises the electrichka (rural mass-transit trains) and bus depots in search of amiable and impressionable young victims, luring them into nearby woods with food or drink to brutally kill them. Unlike their American counterparts, Bukarov and Fetisov are greatly hampered by a severe lack of men, material, sophisticated forensic techniques and, most tragically, their superiors. Only late in the game, with the arrival of Gorbachev and glasnost to the Soviet state, does their luck begin to change. In one groundbreaking move they do something never before done in the history of Soviet law enforcement, they employ a psychiatrist (von Sydow) to assist in a murder investigation by profiling the killer. Armed with a better understanding of the killer and his motives, they begin to make real headway.

In typical American fashion, no Russian actors were actually employed in any of the primary roles. Irish actor Stephen Rea, who became well-known in the US after 1992's The Crying Game, plays the bureaucratically inept yet passionate Burakov. Screen veterans Donald Sutherland and Max von Sydow play the patient and cunning Colonel Fetisov and the wise old psychiatrist, Bukhanovsky, respectively. American Jeffrey DeMunn (The Green Mile, Phenomenon) plays the meek yet deadly Chikatilo. Englishman Joss Ackland, who has well over one hundred film appearances to his credit, plays the sinister Bondarchuk. Graded against its notable theatrical counterparts, such as 1991's Silence of the Lambs, Citizen X comes up a little short in the overall level of its performances. However, for a made-for-TV film, it does quite well. Rea and DeMunn, in particular, stand out in a fairly strong cast. Rea's impassioned Burakov is single-minded in his pursuit, troubled but never completely thwarted by the obstacles in his way. DeMunn plays a man disgusted at himself and tortured by what he is doing, yet seemingly helpless to turn his back on what he is.

Citizen X is a film with two prominent faces. On the one hand, it is a compelling drama about the search for a monster. On the other, it is a scathing look at the corrupt, inefficient Soviet political system. In this first role, the film succeeds admirably. In its second role, it ends up being a bit clumsy. The screenplay for this film was adapted from Robert Cullen's non-fiction account of the Chikatilo investigation, The Killer Department. I read this book about four years ago and it is able to go into great detail in its several hundred pages of text. Adapting all of this information into a succinct and compelling screenplay that still remains generally faithful to real events must have been a daunting challenge for writer/director Gerolmo. His previous experience penning the screenplay to 1988's Mississippi Burning must have proven beneficial in this effort. He generally succeeds but, unfortunately, his bureaucrat characters Bondarchuk and Gorbunov end up being two-dimensional to the point of fault.

Citizen X does possess a dramatic and authentic flair. Filmed in and around Budapest, Hungary, the film is quite visually convincing, capturing well the look of pre-glasnost rural Russia. Also adding considerably to the film's dramatic resonance is a surprisingly good original score from composer Randy Edelman.

Dramas about serial killers do tend to possess a certain allure for a lot of viewers, myself included. We are simultaneously revolted and attracted to the subject matter. Despite the glut of films of this genre in recent years, Citizen X succeeds by being methodical and thoughtful and not overwhelming us with gore.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Citizen X, being a made-for-TV film, is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (full-frame). The image quality is actually quite good with some extremely vivid colors and a nice crisp picture. There is a mild graininess to the print throughout but it is subtle enough to not be particularly distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Citizen X features an English Dolby Surround 2.0 track and a Spanish mono track. The Surround track is quite nice, offering rich, full sound. Edelman's original score resonates quite nicely while still allowing dialogue to be heard clearly. Your subwoofer will kick in to supplement some sounds, such as the heavy rumble of trains. Some good use of stereo effects across the front sound stage also occur, such as when a train passes in front of the camera in the opening credits and some traffic scenes later in the film. Unfortunately, a problem with my Marantz receiver kept me from hearing the surround channels when I viewed this film but I understand from comments on the web that the channel is used to good effect several times during the film. When I have had a chance to resolve the issue, I will present a complete rating.

Audio Transfer Grade: NA


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (subs and CC), Spanish, French
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: n/a

Extras Review: Outside of cast and crew bios for actors Rea, Sutherland, von Sydow, DeMunn, Ackland, Wood, and writer/director Gerolmo, Citizen X is a "bare-bones" presentation.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

I have to give HBO® credit. They have aired and released an almost countless number of original films over the last 10+ years. Many of them have been quite good, especially when considering their made-for-TV origins. Citizen X is definitely one of the better ones. While they have had to take some liberties with factual data in order to squeeze the entire Andrei Chikatilo story into one 102-minute film, the end result is compelling, very watchable, and likely to please fans of the genre.


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