Citizen X

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"You don't want to know what he does... You just want to know when he's caught."
  • R
  • 1995
  • 1 hr 45 min
  • 7.5  (22,288)

Citizen X is a gripping, true-crime drama set in the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Directed by Chris Gerolmo, the film stars Stephen Rea as Viktor Burakov, a forensic specialist who becomes embroiled in a decades-long hunt for a prolific serial killer. The murderer, known only as "Citizen X," is believed to have killed at least 52 young boys and girls between 1978 and 1990, but has managed to elude the authorities and evade justice. As Burakov and his team race against the clock to catch the killer, they must confront the challenges of a corrupt and bureaucratic system that is actively working against them.

The film opens with the discovery of the first victim, a young boy who has been brutally mutilated and left in a field. The investigation is immediately hampered by the incompetence and indifference of the local police department, who dismiss the crime as an isolated incident. But as more bodies pile up, and the level of violence escalates, a task force is finally assembled to track down the killer. Burakov, a dedicated and methodical investigator, is put in charge of the case, and immediately clashes with his superior, General Mikhail Fetisov (played by Donald Sutherland), who is more concerned with maintaining the illusion of social order than with apprehending the killer.

As the story unfolds, we see Burakov and his team struggling to piece together the scant evidence they have, often working in secrecy and at great personal risk. They are stymied at every turn by the limits of Soviet technology, which prevents them from using the latest forensic techniques that might be available in other countries. They are also hampered by the unwillingness of the Soviet government to acknowledge the existence of a serial killer, which leads to a culture of denial and scapegoating. Meanwhile, as the killer continues to strike, we get glimpses of his twisted psychology, and of the societal factors that may have contributed to his pathology.

One of the most interesting aspects of Citizen X is the way it explores the political landscape of Soviet Russia during this period. We see how the government's obsession with controlling information and maintaining the illusion of a crime-free society undercuts the work of the investigators, who can't even talk to each other about the case without risking punishment. We also see how the culture of terror and suspicion that pervades Soviet society makes it difficult for anyone to trust anyone else, including the police themselves. Max von Sydow gives a memorable performance as Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky, a psychiatrist who is brought in to profile the killer, and who becomes an unlikely ally of Burakov's. Bukhanovsky is a pragmatic and compassionate figure who recognizes the importance of understanding the killer's motivations, rather than simply punishing him.

Overall, Citizen X is a powerfully acted and deeply affecting film that offers both a gripping police procedural and a window into a society in crisis. Rea is superb as the beleaguered but determined Burakov, and Sutherland does an excellent job of conveying the moral bankruptcy of Fetisov's leadership. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the horror of the killer's crimes, but never exploitative, and it maintains a sense of tension and urgency throughout. It is a testament to the bravery and dedication of the real-life investigators who pursued the killer for so many years, and a reminder of the importance of justice in the face of evil.

Citizen X is a 1995 crime movie with a runtime of 1 hour and 45 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.5.

Citizen X
Where to Watch Citizen X
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 45 min
  • IMDB Rating
    7.5  (22,288)