Film Review: Citizen Gangster

How could the tale of Toronto’s most flamboyant bank robber be turned into such a blah, seen-it-all-before film?

Citizen Gangster is the true story of aspiring actor Eddie Boyd (Scott Speedman), a Canadian WWII vet who, weary of his drab existence as a bus driver, starts robbing banks. He is no ordinary thief, however; he’s got definite personality, at least as much as can be gleaned by his raiding the makeup kit of his wife, Doreen (Kelly Reilly), before pointing his Luger at bank tellers, who are aghast at his garishly painted visage, not to mention his habit of tap dancing on their counters. He becomes a media darling and Toronto’s most celebrated criminal, but is eventually caught and imprisoned. In jail, he falls in with a gang of thugs who effect a prison break and form the thieving Boyd Gang, who’d rather do anything than live quietly in the suburbs.

This was a fairly interesting news story and a lot of care has gone into making a movie about it. There’s just one problem: We’ve really seen it all before. Debut director/writer Nathan Morlando makes too many rookie mistakes here, starting with his totally desaturated and unappetizing palette which, one supposes, is meant to evoke the past as well as Boyd’s bleak existence in the snowy Great North. Every popular gangster film in memory is seemingly evoked, with special nods to Bonnie and Clyde and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, with their jauntily picaresque approach to period crime.

Morlando employs a surfeit of early rockabilly and blues to underline the gang’s high jinks, which only emphasize the surface-y nature of his film. Any true period quality soon dissipates, and the movie becomes quite monotonous quite fast. How many heists, followed by Nan Goldin-esque louche hotel room celebrations with the perps and their bimbos, can one watch? The alternative offered here, Boyd endlessly being confronted by the tearfully concerned Doreen, who’s kept out of things even more than poor Diane Keaton in The Godfather, ain’t that revelatory, either. Morlando’s stabs at pathos, like Eddie’s carrying a wounded vet on and off his bus, have the subtlety of a Trump tower.

It’s rather a shame, for with a better script, Speedman, with his natural Errol Flynn handsomeness and geniality, could have shone. Instead he disappears into the none-too-interesting morass, as do the rest of the hard-working cast, although Reilly is affecting, with her timorous voice and manner. An even more morose than usual Brian Cox, as Eddie’s eternally disappointed policeman father, just drags things down further.