Years ago, when HBO was dishing out original movies that were just fantastic (get your hands on the James Woods flick Indictment or Gary Sinise's performance in Truman if you can), I was sitting home, bored and looking for a movie to watch. The Preview Guide informed me that something called Citizen X was about to begin.
Two hours later I had a new answer to the question "What's the best made-for-cable movie you've ever seen?"
Starring Donald Sutherland, Stephen Rea, Max von Sydow, and Jeffrey DeMunn, Citizen X told the harsh and frustrating story of how Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo evaded capture for several years -- while slaughtering more than 50 women and children in the process. I was hypnotized by Citizen X, partially because I'd never heard this story before, but also because the film was written and directed with such grim intensity and unflinching sincerity. (Plus it's got such a phenomenal cast.)
So now it's about 10 years later and up pops another movie about the evil exploits of comrade Chikatilo ... only it's been infused with a frankly unnecessary jolt of "fictionalization," which explains why the killer is now known as Andrei Romanovic Evilenko. What's annoyingly ironic here is that while Chris Geralmo's Citizen X was a cable movie that seemed more suited to the inside of a movie theater, first-time director Chris Grieco's Evilenko is an arthouse indie that feels like it'd be more comfortable premiering on cable television.
By adding an air of fiction to an already more-than-fascinating true story, Grieco manages to shoot himself in the foot a few times. Several dialogue scenes are packed with unconvincing conversations, obvious pieces of foreshadowing, and even a few moments of laughable material. When Evilenko stays focused on the killer himself, or the comparisons made between his descent into madness and the slow destruction of his beloved communist regime, Evilenko works just fine.
But when the thing gets stuck firmly in the mode of "police procedural," the wheels begin to spin and Evilenko threatens to careen right into an overpopulated section of Dullsville.
Fortunately for Mr. Grieco, he was able to tag legendary character actor Malcolm McDowell to play his harrowing villain. Between his seminal performance in A Clockwork Orange and today, Mr. McDowell has continued to pop up in movies both excellent and atrocious, but damn if the guy's not always a lot of fun to watch. And the actor gives one of his best performances in years in Evilenko.
While certainly not an awful piece of fictionalized biopic-ery, Evilenko suffers from a few too many dry spots over the course of its 111 minutes. The more flaccid sections manage to drag the flick down on an intermittent basis, but the truth behind this story does manage to shine through often enough to warrant a mild (if somewhat unenthusiastic) recommendation ... provided that serial killer exposés are your cup of tea. Heck, I'd say it's worth seeing just for McDowell's performance alone -- but be prepared for a few first-time missteps and an irritating affinity for focusing on the drier sides of the story.
Video: TLA affords the flick a rather fine anamorphic widescreen (1.77:1) transfer.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, with optional English subtitles. Audio quality is fine, although you'll most likely be cringing at some of the voice-dubbing used on several of the supporting actors.
All of the supplemental material is found on a second disc:
First up is an 87-minute collection of cast & crew interviews that includes recollections and insights from writer/director David Grieco, producer Mario Cotone, costume designers Agata Cannizzaro & Benedetta Baiocchi, composer Angelo Badalamenti, make-up artist Alessandro Bertolazzi, cinematographer Fabio Zamarion, photographer Fabian Cevallos, and actors Marton Csokas, Ronald Pickup, Ihor Ciszkewicz, and (of course) Malcolm McDowell. Those who dug the flick just a bit more than I will absolutely enjoy this feature-length collection of interviews, and TLA is to be commended for including such a thorough collection of insights.
Originally produced for Italian television, Dossier: Andrei Chikatilo is a somewhat redundant 27-minute profile on the true-life murderer behind the Evilenko story. In point of fact, however, this is more of a behind-the-scenes production piece (which is laden with footage seen in the interview segments) than an actual exposé of Andrei Chikatilo's reign of terror, which is what I was really hoping for. (Both of the disc 2 features come with optional English subtitles, which makes sense since some of the filmmakers don't speak English -- and also because the "Dossier" segment is presented in Italian.)
Rounding out the extras is the Evilenko theatrical trailer.
By "fictionalizing" a factual story that didn't really scream for any alterations, Mr. Grieco has managed to jam a whole lot of conventional ideas and overbaked dialogue into his movie. Why he chose to augment the facts for his book and subsequent movie is anybody's guess, but if you're a fan of true-life crime stories (and you don't mind a bunch of seemingly arbitrary changes), odds are you'll find just enough in Evilenko to keep yourself entertained. Me, I was happy just to watch Malcolm McDowell go insane for two hours.