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STUDIO: MPI Home Video
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
A bleak look at Canadian outlaw and folk hero Edwin Boyd.
Written and directed by Nathan Morlando, starring Scott Speedman, Kelly Reilly, Kevin Durand, and Brandan Fletcher.
A lot of the time, when you sit down to watch a crime drama you’re subjected to watching “anti-heroes” who are so slick they’re constantly slipping in and out of the law’s fingers, all while wearing expensive three-piece suits and screwing high-maintenance ladies. Citizen Gangster, based on the life of Canadian bank robber Edwin Boyd, takes the more realistic route. It’s a grim, unsentimental drama that focuses more on the choices made by one desperate man than his criminal acts. It’s a sad story of infamy and crumbling relationships and a damn good film.
Nathan Morlando’s Citizen Gangster is a fictionalized account of Canadian bank robber turned folk hero Edwin Boyd. Between 1949 and 1951, Edwin and “The Boyd Gang” pulled off at least six bank robberies and managed to hacksaw their way outta prison. It’s easy to stylize a life of crime and make a flashy movie filled with daring escapes and embellished bullshit. But while Morlando may take licenses with some of Boyd’s life, the film itself is a bleak, unsentimental portrait of a very desperate man. It’s the type of crime film that makes me hard – devoid of flash and choking with anger and hopelessness.
Edwin Boyd came home from WWII and did his best to settle into his new role as family man to his wife Doreen and their three children. He finds a low-paying bus driver gig, but his heart is in acting. Nailing a role in the local theater seems impossible to Edwin, so he turns his sights on the next best stage: a bank. Wearing heavy stage makeup he swiped from his wife, Edwin turns bank robbery into performance art.
At first he’s awkward about it, like any wannabe actor popping his cherry. But then he comes out of his shell and starts flamboyantly soft-shoeing on the table with a gun in his hand. All that’s missing is the spotlight. Even the bank customers seem to like him. Shit, if you’re gonna be robbed, best you can hope for is some painted up fool giving you a show.
Eventually he’s pinched and sent to prison. There he meets a gang of fellow crooks led by the imposing Kevin Durand. He’s best known as Martin Keamy, the mercenary creep with the “dead man’s trigger” on Lost. Here he turns the menace down a bit and shows some damn impressive versatility. Also in the gang is Brendan Fletcher, who’s been in at least five Uwe Boll movies, including his uncharacteristically preachy Heart of America. I’ll never forget Fletcher as the bully in that film – it’s one of the most subtly powerful school bully performances ever. In Citizen Gangster he plays the joker of the Boyd Gang and again he’s fantastic. This kid is just a great fucking actor.
The film takes a close look at the bristling relationships between the crooks, their molls, and their families. Some of these motifs are predictable, like how Boyd’s marriage is crumbling beneath his outlaw status. But there’s so much intimacy and emotion infused in the characters that the conventional paths taken in the film don’t matter.
Every time the gang celebrates its latest heist, there’s a sadness behind the smiles. All of them know they’re going nowhere fast and all the sacks of cash won’t change a thing. Most convincing on this speeding train to doom is Speedman. If there were any justice in this world this guy would be wiping his ass with Oscars. I haven’t seen much of his other work besides The Strangers, but holy moly does he deliver a career-defining performance as Edwin Boyd. Even when the movie lulls, Speedman manages to be compelling as hell. Boyd’s a heartbreakingly pathetic character who had nothing but the best intentions to start out with and gradually grew delusional – and Speedman just nails it. Him playing Boyd is just one of those cosmic casting miracles that don’t happen often enough. Like DJ Qualls as the DJ in Hustle and Flow.
There are some small issues, like the languid pacing and devastating underused Brian Cox, who plays Edwin’s father-in-law. Other than those very minor hiccups, the film is one goddamn solid film that’s hauntingly beautiful and devastating in its honesty. Citizen Gangster is a seriously impressive directorial debut from Morlando that’s a must-see for fans of the crime genre.
On the interviews feature, the cast and crew provide a wealth of insight on the production and, more interestingly, how they approached the characters. This bonus is worth a watch for sure.
Other than the interviews there’s just a trailer. Weak!
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars