Based on the book “The Killer Department”, the made-for-HBO film Citizen X is a chilling account of a real-life serial killer who killed 52 people within a period of 8 years – from 1982 to 1990. The film shows the killer early on and is not a whodunit. It’s about the long and arduous process of bypassing the difficult bureaucracy of the Soviet Regime at the time. The killer Chikatilov (Jeffrey DeMunn) was a member of the Communist Party and they refused to believe that someone like that was capable of committing horrendous crimes. The killer derived a sexual pleasure from his victims: he stabs them multiple times and masturbates on them while doing so and sometimes he ate the genitals of the male victims. 35 of these victims were children aged below 16. One of the higher officials opines that there are no serial killers in Russia and that “it’s a decadent western phenomenon.”
The men who caught him had to endure the difficulties the officials of the regime had thrown in front of them at one point, the man in charge of the investigation Burakov (Stephen Rea) who broke down after he was tormented by the immense pressure. The only man who supported him was a clever, fierce and sympathetic Colonel named Fetisov (Donald Sutherland). Burakov was not a detective and had no knowledge of crime detection. He was a forensic expert. But Fetisov’s intuition told him that Burakov would make a good investigator and hence, put him in charge of the case. When Chikatilov is let go as a result of the tests on the blood and semen samples not matching, they find themselves in front of a major roadblock. As they are left with no other evidence, they decide to hire a psychologist named Alexandr Bukhanovsky (Max von Sydow) to interrogate him and get him to reveal the inner workings of his sick mind.