A body is discovered on a collective farm during harvesting in 1982. A subsequent search of adjacent woods, authorized by newly installed official, Viktor Burakov, turns up seven more bodies in varying stages of decomposition. The film tells the story of the subsequent eight-year hunt by forensic specialist Burakov for the serial killer responsible for the mutilation and murder of over 50 people, 35 of them children below the age of 18. Burakov is promoted to detective and eventually aided, covertly at first, by Col. Mikhail Fetisov, his commanding officer and the shrewd head of the provincial committee for crime, and, much later, by Alexandr Bukhanovsky, a psychiatrist.
As well as taking on the form of a crime thriller, the movie depicts Soviet propaganda and bureaucracy that contributed to the failure of law enforcement agencies to capture the killer, Andrei Chikatilo, for almost a decade. Chikatilo's crimes were not reported publicly for years. Local politicians were fearful such revelations would have a negative impact on the USSR's image, since serial killers were associated with Western moral corruption.
Chikatilo first came under scrutiny early in the search when he was spotted at a station and found holding a satchel bag containing a knife. He was promptly arrested. Unfortunately, he was shielded from investigation and released due to his membership in the Communist Party. Additionally, the Soviet crime labs erroneously reported that his blood type did not match that found at the murders. All this changed under the political reforms of glasnost and Perestroika, and the search for the killer began to make progress.
With the passage of time and easing of political restrictions, Burakov and Fetisov devise a plan to blanket almost all the railroad stations, where the serial killer preys upon the young and unsuspecting, with conspicuous uniformed men to discourage the killer. Three stations, however, are left unattended, except for undercover agents. Chikatilo is eventually discovered and identified through the diligence of a local, plainclothes soldier.
Arrested, Andrei Chikatilo is interrogated for seven consecutive days by Gorbunov, a Soviet hardliner who insists that he be the one to extract a confession. Chikatilo will not yield and, under pressure from Fetisov, psychiatrist Bukhanovsky is introduced. Reciting from his lengthy analysis and speculation, made three years earlier, of the sexually frustrated killer's personality and tendencies, Bukhanovsky gets a weeping Chikatilo to admit his guilt and answer specific questions about the details of some murders. Afterwards, Chikatilo leads law enforcement officials to the crime scenes and three additional undetected graves.
Held in a metal cage during his trial, a wild-eyed Chikatilo is convicted and sentenced to death. The film concludes with Chikatilo being led to a nameless prison chamber and shows him staring in shock at a central drain in the room's floor as a uniformed Soviet soldier delivers a pistol shot to the back of the killer's head.
The film was shot entirely in Hungary. The station where Chikatilo picks his victims is the Hatvan railway station, northeast of Budapest. The smaller, arched train shelter scene was shot in Nagymaros, Gödöllő and Szokolya. Several other scenes were shot in the Gödöllő Railway Station. The film was directed by Chris Gerolmo, who additionally wrote the screenplay (adapted from Robert Cullen's 1993 non-fiction book The Killer Department) in addition to playing a minor role in the film as a militiaman.Stephen Rea as Viktor Burakov
Donald Sutherland as Mikhail Fetisov
Jeffrey DeMunn as Andrei Chikatilo
Max von Sydow as Alexandr Bukhanovsky
Joss Ackland as Bondarchuk
John Wood as Gorbunov
Ion Caramitru as Tatevsky
Imelda Staunton as Mrs Burakov
Citizen X was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences. It earned an 86 percent score at the movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, and a rating of 7.6/10 from viewers and critics on the Internet Movie Database. Scott Weinberg of eFilmCritic.com described it as "Fascinating and absorbing. One of HBO's finest made-for-cable flicks."
Citizen X has been released on DVD in the US (HBO, region 1 NTSC), Holland (Paradiso Home Entertainment, region 2 PAL) and Denmark (Scanbox, region 2 PAL). Though the film received theatrical release in some territories and was exhibited in widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, all the DVDs reflect the 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio.
The score for Citizen X was composed and conducted by Randy Edelman. It has been released on CD in the US by Varèse Sarabande.CableACE Awards
Best Movie or Miniseries
Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries (Jeffrey DeMunn)
Best TV Feature or MiniSeries (Chris Gerolmo)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special (Donald Sutherland)
Golden Globe Awards
Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV (Donald Sutherland)
Sitges Film Festival