Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Citizen X


Dir: Chris Gerolmo (The Witness; Mississippi Burning [writer])

Early HBO TV movie about the most notorious serial killer in global history, Andrei Chikalito who mutilated over 50 victims during a six year period in the Soviet Union. The film has the right idea, and a unique slant on this tired genre, but has too many writing flaws to get my recommendation.

The detective work in the film is totally controlled by the stifling Russian bureaucracy and the desire of party leaders to cover up the presence of a murderer in the country. Serial killing is supposedly a "decadent, Western phenomenon," and the allow the killer to continue in the interests of PR. Stephen Rea (The Crying Game; V for Vendetta) is a forensic scientist who leads the investigation. His superior is a woefully miscast (yet still Emmy award winning) Donald Sutherland. His Russian accent, which wasn't good to begin with, comes and goes, and both Michelle and I looked at each other about 5 minutes in and wondered "Is he supposed to be gay?" It actually may be in the backstory of the character (homosexuality is a sidelight in the plot), but if it was then Donald is way overdoing it here, to the point of distraction.

Sutherland is an experienced navigator of the bureaucracy, and most of the film is spent with the subtlty of a trainwreck. When the party boss storms into a room and demands that a suspect (the real killer) be released because "he is a party member in good standing. Do you know how this will look!" we roll our eyes at the bluntness of the confrontation. Even in Red Russia, I have a feeling that winks and nods and private conversations and silent understandings were much more the order of business than matter-of-fact shouting matches and irrational edicts in a room full of people. These things must be done delicately, or at least they should be to make a good film. The audience is forced to do no work whatsoever here, all of the slight moves in the bureaucracy game are spelled out. That makes it silly.

The film is resolved after Perestroika, where overnight the party loses power and Sutherland is freed up to get the bad buy. This, as well, is blunt and unimaginative. The only good thing is that the investigators can now bring in a psychiatrist, played by the perfect-in-everything-he-does Max von Sydow (who can hold an accent) in a very intersting scene exploring the psyche of the killer, a bid to sympathize him and make him another cog in this failing system. This really a scathing indict of the Soviet system.

Good idea. This movie is certainly praised and won several awards. But I think the script insults the intelligence of the audience, and earns low marks in my mind.