Reviewed By Charles Tatum
Posted 03/28/06 11:13:22

"Comrades in Harms"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Malcolm McDowell and Marton Csokas are murderer and cop in a film that turns the serial killer genre on its ear.

In the 1980's USSR, Evilenko (Malcolm McDowell) is a stern teacher fired for exposing himself to a young student. He lives in a sexless marriage full of lies, winning a lower level job with the KGB spying on his coworkers under the guise of a railway inspector. Evilenko travels throughout the vast country, watching his beloved Communism go through its final days, and taking out his fury on innocent children, raping and cannibalizing them.

Magistrate Lesiev (Marton Csokas) is hired to investigate the string of child murders. Thanks to the state run media, what Lesiev thinks are three or four victims actually tallies closer to thirty. A mass dragnet of suspect interviews brings in Dr. Richter (Ronald Pickup). Richter is a gay Jewish psychoanalyst, an outcast in the community. While Lesiev wants to find the killer and execute him, Richter wants to study him; a serial killer in a Communist Utopia is a new phenomenon. As Evilenko travels and kills, Lesiev and Richter must deal with bureaucracy and pre-"CSI" scientific investigative methods.

With the rash of mediocre straight to video releases about serial killers, sporting titular names like "Gacy," "Ed Gein," and "Dahmer," it might be tempting to file "Evilenko" into the same category. The film's saving graces include authentic Kiev locations and a professional cast. It is unbelievable to me that McDowell has never been nominated for an Oscar. Not for "A Clockwork Orange," not for "O Lucky Man," and not for "If..." He is one of the greatest underrated actors of all-time, turning even the silliest video dreck into something more. His performance here is chilling, with his final interrogation scenes among the best of his long career.

While I am a fan of Daniel Craig, and look forward to his turn as James Bond, I now wish the 007 producers had chosen Marton Csokas. His Magistrate Lesiev is not just another dogged chain smoking cop chasing a clever killer, his investigation affects his family and even his relationship with his underlings. Csokas brings depth to a clicheed role.

Director and writer Grieco does not linger on the unsavory aspects of this based-on-a-true-story case, so when an act of violence or a gory scene surfaces, they leave their mark on the viewer. I did not like Richter's fate, it never quite worked. Also, with an obviously lousy pun title like EVILenko, you might be tempted to look for other characters like Boris Goodguyski or Anna Nextvictimchev. Evilenko's luring of victims with hypnosis also seems convenient.

While the sum of the parts are better than the whole, I will recommend "Evilenko," and hope that McDowell soon gets the recognition he deserves.

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