Saturday, October 28, 2023

#2,933. Citizen Gangster (2011) - Double Feature of Off the Beaten Path Gangster Films


I knew nothing about the real Edwin Boyd going into 2011’s Citizen Gangster. A veteran of World War II who had dreams of becoming an actor, Boyd, a Canadian, found it difficult to adjust to life after the war, and turned to robbing banks to support his wife and two children.

Boyd was eventually captured and imprisoned, but joined forces with several fellow inmates and managed to escape. Once loose, Boyd and his new pals started robbing banks, and the media, anxious to give their audience a glimmer of hope in desperate times, turned Edwin Boyd and his cohorts into folk heroes.

Written and directed by Nathan Morlando, who actually befriended the real Edwin Boyd, Citizen Gangster sets out to tell Boyd’s story, and aside from some sections that feel a bit rushed, the movie has enough going for it that it accomplishes just that.

As Citizen Gangster opens, Edwin Boyd (Scott Speedman) iss working as a bus driver in Toronto. To make ends meet, his wife Doreen (Kelly Reilly) takes in washing while also keeping an eye on the couple’s two children. Tired of his job, and frustrated that his acting career isn’t going anywhere, Boyd abruptly quits and, painting his face with his wife’s make-up, robs his first bank.

Then another...

...And another.

At first, he tells Doreen that he landed a lucrative acting gig, but she discovers the truth right about the same time that the police, led by ace Detective David Rhys (William Mapother), catch Boyd in the act.

In prison, Boyd meets both Lenny Jackson (Kevin Durand), a fellow war veteran who lost a foot in a railway accident; and Willie (Brendan Fletcher), aka “The Clown”. Together, the three saw their way through the cell bars, climb the wall, and are met on the other side by Jackson’s buddy Val Kosak (Joseph Cross), who drives them to a safe place where they can lay low.

But they don’t “lay low” for very long!

Soon, Boyd and his new “gang” are back at it, robbing banks and stealing more money that any of them have ever seen before. Along with Lenny’s fiancé Ann (Melanie Scrofano) and Kozak’s mistress Mary Mitchell (Charlotte Sullivan), the “Boyd Gang” makes quite a name for itself, and all are portrayed as folk heroes in the media.

Despite Doreen’s repeated requests that he give up his life of crime, Edwin Boyd presses on. But how long will he and the others stay one step ahead of the law, which is doing everything in its power to bring them to justice?

Shot on-location in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Citizen Gangster, with its snowy landscapes, feels every bit a Canadian film, and Morlando and company do a fine job recreating the time period (early 1950s), when Boyd and associates carried out their misdeeds. The performances are all solid, led by Speedman’s charismatic portrayal of Edwin Boyd, who robs banks with style and panache (he seems to be putting on a show with each and every heist). Reilly is also good as Boyd’s long-suffering wife, though the scenes with the two of them together, after Boyd turns to a life of crime, are my least favorite in the movie. It’s not the actors’ fault; their relationship, as portrayed on-screen, felt too predictable, hitting all the beats you would expect, to the point I stopped caring about them as a couple.

Also good in support is Brian Cox, who plays Boyd’s father Glover, a retired cop! But my favorite turn in the entire film is Kevin Durand as Lenny Jackson, Boyd’s very angry associate. We recognize right away that Lenny may be a loose cannon (which proves to be the case at a key moment in the film), yet we also like the guy, who has overcome a lot of adversity and truly loves his fiancé. In one of the film’s best scenes, the gang takes off for Montreal so that Lenny and Ann can get married. Durand was so impressive that, even in those scenes when Speedman’s Boyd is nowhere to be found, his Lenny Jackson carries the movie, and we never once miss Edwin.

Speedman and Durand, along with Fletcher, Cross, and Sullivan, bring a substantial energy to their scenes together, and like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, we find ourselves rooting for the bad guys, hoping they will somehow get away with it and live happily ever after.

As I mentioned above, some scenes in Citizen Gangster feel rushed, starting with Boyd’s initial crime spree and his escape from prison, all of which play out like an accelerated “origin story”, simply to get us as quickly as possible to the scenes with Boyd’s gang. But since those later moments are my favorite in the movie, I guess I can’t complain.

Despite its flaws, Citizen Gangster is a strong crime film that sheds light on an historical figure who, before this movie, I never even knew existed.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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