This is perhaps one of the more under-appreciated movies out there. Originally made in 1995 as a HBO TV movie, it has since gone on to win a cult DVD following since its release. The movie is set against the background of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which parallels the case as in runs over a period of about 7 years. The movie is based on true events, the extent to which is always up to question. People are dying, children are being murdered and the police are getting nowhere. One junior forensic detective , Viktor Burakow (Stephen Rea, V for Vendetta, 2005) believes they have a serial killer. He takes his opinion to his Superior, Col. Fetisov (Donald Sutherland, Space Cowboys, 2000) who although reluctant to believe Burakow, reports the possibility to the local Communist party officials over-looking the work of the police. They are emphatic that there are no serial killers in Russia. End of discussion. It may have been the end of the discussion, but not the murders. The murders sting out over a number of years. In the early years of the investigation Burakov’s biggest hurdle was the Communist party who would not admit to such crimes in Mother Russia. The local officials ordered the rounding up of others who they saw as degenerates and likely suspects. Non had anything to do with the murders, more dead-ends, more time wasted. Burakow never gives up the search, often on his own and against the wishes of the Party. Josh Ackland (firelight, 1997) is the stalwart party official holding things back, loyal to the end.
As the murders progress and Burakow’s progress and resources continue to be limited, we get to know the murderer, Jeffrey DeMunn, The Shawshank Redemption, 1994) and what is driving him. What holds Burakow up against the others is his willingness to continuously challenge the system in order to have the resources necessary to do his job. His relationship with Fetisov, though friendly and professional most of the time is often fraught with tension. Fetisov is the person who has to deal with the party officials in Moscow and locally. Despite his continually limiting Burakov and calming him down, he actually has his back. Over the years when all seems lost, Burakov out of the blue gets his resources, he even gets promoted and has staff assigned. Fetisov, who, although often locks horns with Burakov over his demands ultimately supports him all along the way. What Fetisov brings to the affair is his ability to manage the situation. As the Soviet Union fell apart, he knew which vacuums to step in to and how to control the situation working it to provide the support Burakov needs. It is telling that the support is not just in terms or resources but also directly to Burakov. He is Fetisov’s man, he is the person to lead the investigation . Lead it he does, with little or no equipment he struggles but never gives up, however long it takes Burakov will keep hunting with whatever tools he has available As this happens we are conscious of the years and victims passing through his hands, through dogged police work, forensics and finally having access to the experts and testing he needed, the team slowly begin to make progress. As the investigation progresses and they zero in on their suspect, they need to get to know and understand him.
To this end Burakov manages to persuade his superiors to allow him bring in a phsyco-analist in the form of Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky (Max von Sydow, Minoroty Report, 2002) who profiles the suspect and helps to track him. Bukhanovsky’s report on the profile of the killer, gives Burakov the insight he needs. Old fashioned police work allows them to progress. Burakov eventually has authorisation to put men in areas likely be attractive to the killer, it works. Once they have their suspect, they need the evidence to convict him, the need to know if he is sane enough to stand trial. The murderer, Chikatilo, is a cool calm character who has not given them much to go on. Bukhanovsky must work his magic, talking with their murder suspect, getting to know him and what drives him. They eventually manage to get our murderer to reveal, the bodies of many of his victims. This is a thriller to an extent, it is also a police procedural, but it is more than these, it is a good solid drama expertly crafted; written and directed by Chris Gerolmo (Certain Prey, 2011). From the very start we are introduced to Burakov as a person, we are encouraged to feel his frustration and smile when we see how Fetisov has been toying with him. Indeed the person who we thought would be another one of those party functionaries, turn out to be Burakov’s biggest supporter, even when their backs are to the wall. Fetisov, effectively “takes the heat” for Burakov, despite what the junior officer thinks. What makes this film stand out is the drama, not just the drama of capturing the suspect but the drama and effects of the changing environment, from denial and party politics to acceptance and doors being opened to ensure what needs to be done can be done.
Gerolmo gives us a glimpse of the conditions people were living and working under, while at the same time giving a vision of a society possibly changing for the better, people like Burakov would be allowed to do their jobs. Stephen Rea is under-stated and calm throughout, his character is painstaking and methodical, not one to go out on a limb, unless there was a good reason why and a high chance of success. Von Sydow’s Bukhanovsky gives us the intellectual science that was needed to finally put the pieces together. DeMann’s murder is a master-class in control, he play the part of the serial killer exactly giving vision to the analysis the detectives are painting, as the analysis deepens, the detectives get closer to their man, understanding him, anticipating him. Buy it or stream it, you will not be disappointed in this film. Just sit-back and let it bring you along. Appreciate the acting and the script. The pace never lags, and even in the darkness there are moments of light with the script and relationship between Burakov and Fetisov. A solid 8/10. Possibly 9